This Song Will Save Your Life
London, Macmillan, 2013, 288p
I was unexpectedly impressed and wowed by this novel. Having struggled to concentrate on reading recently, I did not think a book about a teen misfit in high school would be what got me back on track.
Having spent all summer trying to learn how to be cool, Elise is disappointed when her first day back at school goes terribly wrong. She has the right clothes, knows what to say about music, and is sure this will be the year she makes friends, but after just one day back she is ready to take her own life.
The second chapter of this book will haunt me for some time, and I remain unsure how I feel about it. Elise resorts to self-harming, as her social rejection becomes increasingly difficult to ignore. Today, I spent this morning chatting with my school counselor, and have given her the book to read - I want to share this book with my students, but feel under prepared about how to talk to young readers about it, as the scene was unbelievably heartbreaking and yet shockingly common.
And I am undecided on how I feel about the outcome and resolution of Elise's depression. Jenna Sales skips through the six months following Elise's suicide attempt, briefly noting that her parents had started to keep a closer eye on her. When the story picks up, Elise is still unhappy at school, though she has two girls to sit with at lunch time (both also rather socially awkward, they are wannabees, and follow the popular crowd, longing to be part of it).
At night, Elise walks through the streets, taking advantage of the time to herself. One night, she stumbles upon an underground club, and though only fifteen, is admitted to a world she never knew existed - where the clothes hark back to better times and the room is filled with old rock classics. Her passion for music leads her to being noticed, and the DJ takes her under his wing to show her the ropes.
The challenge with writing a book about depression is that a novel always has a beginning, a middle, and an end. But depression doesn't always have an end. And young girls and boys don't always stumble upon their dream social scene in a warehouse in the early hours of the morning. Perhaps it is okay just to know that books like this get the conversation started, and help us acknowledge the existence of depression.