Book review: This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

Farrar Straus Giroux, 2013

Photo by Pixabay on

This book is about a misfit trying to find her place in the world. For most of her life, Elise has been an outsider when it comes to making friends. So the summer before her sophomore year, Elise uses current trends and fashion in one last attempt to be accepted by her peers. However, it goes horribly wrong, and Elise attempts suicide but realizes that she isn’t serious about it. When Elise, an avid music lover, has trouble sleeping, she goes on long walks, and one night she happens upon a hidden dance club. Elise feels that she has finally found a place to fit in with the kids in the club in addition to the DJ playing the music.

Elise’s road to acceptance and freedom isn’t smooth, and through the bumps along the way she finally finds who she’s meant to be. Elise is smart and funny and very relatable. She is so real and suffers from such a painful combination of self-scrutiny, naivety about others, and deep convictions about what’s really important in life and who is really on her side, half of which are wrong. Most of her observations and sentiments are spot on, though some of her interactions with her family seem to be her pretending to be someone else. It does deal with tough subjects of suicide, fitting in and cyber bullying in a moving, insightful, inspiring and often comedic way.

Elise’s love of music is a huge part of her story, and there are many references to bands and songs throughout, so some teens or twenty-somethings will love it. Older readers might not be interested enough to follow Elise on her journey of self-acceptance. Others will see it as a brilliant story about a young woman trying to find where she fits in the world, discovering her talents & joy through music and finding her own sense of community which will make it a fun, inspiring read.

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Book review: All the Things We Never Said by Yasmin Rahman

Hot Key, 2019

As soon as I read the subject matter of this boldly designed book, I knew that I had to devour it. It’s a character driven; UK Young Adult contemporary novel based on mental health. Not to be disappointed when I began reading, I was drawn into the stories of the three girls. I loved the author’s note at the beginning which really set the tone for the book.

The book tells the story of 3 young girls from 3 very different lives, but they all have one sad fact in common, the want to die.  As a result the girls each sign up to a website that is designed to pair people with other people who want to die. But it is this pack that brings the 3 girls together and allows them to find the support that they each needed

As I learnt more about why Mehreen, Olivia and Cara had joined MementoMori. I really began to connect and empathize with the diverse characters which weren’t the sole focus of the story and didn’t define the characters entirely. Mehreen’s religion was an important factor, but she was so much more than just that and was such a real character that, despite me being from a totally different background, I could relate. I found it to be the same with all the characters and that was something that I think Yasmin really excelled at with this novel and its unusual typeface

So, the website sets a time place and course of death for the girls, and as the date of termination (as it is referred to) approaches the girls have to complete a task that is set and send photographic proof. The first 2 tasks the girls do with easy, but it is when the 3rd task arrives that the girls admit that they have changed their minds. 

The problem is the website doesn’t want to let the girls out. After all, they signed up and agreed to the terms and conditions. Pushing the girls to their breaking point the girls begin to crumble and turn on each other.  

This is an interesting book, but as I first mentioned you need to be careful when reading this story as it is an emotional and mental journey. It has to be noted that this book contains many triggers, for those that vulnerable to such material. Topics touched upon, besides suicide, include self-harm, rape and severe anxiety and depression. I personally was okay with all of these and found that they were handled very sensitively and not in a way that made for uncomfortable reading.

All the Things We Never Said is not a typical YA book. I believe that it is a book that can help to open dialogue and get people talking about their feelings and issues, instead of hiding behind a mask that so many people use today to hide how they are truly feeling.

This book highlights the importance of speaking, talking about your problems, and how you are feeling. As it is through these actions, the characters realize that they are not alone and that the simple act of talking to someone openly and honestly can change your perspective.

An audiobook is also available for those that may have issues with the typeface.

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Book review: Impulse by Ellen Hopkins

Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2007

Three teens who meet at Reno, Nevada’s Aspen Springs mental hospital after each has attempted suicide connect with each other in a way they never have with their parents or anyone else in their lives. This was a very good book, well-written in free verse format, that described the repercussions of suicide.

Their distinct character’s lives unfold in alternating chapters which might be confusing at times remembering whose mind you’re in. The dynamic of the 3 characters was also a little confusing because the 2 boys were supposed to be gay, but then fell in love with Vanessa.


I blame the parents for what happens to Conner. after his sister read the letter I got the sense that he was going to kill himself because that letter screamed you have to be perfect when the reason he killed himself is because he wasn’t perfect. Nobody’s perfect. And his mother never seemed to think it was her fault, she just thought going to a mental hospital could fix him, but its hard to fix someone who felt empty inside to begin. I wonder if she really loved her son at all. I’ve got to say I like the father more; he is also to blame but I think he was a really good person inside, deep down but he just didn’t know how to show it and that’s why he was so distant.

The story was interesting from the very beginning, easy to read, realistic, and connectable. There wasn’t a moment where I didn’t feel close to the characters!

Ellen Hopkins writes in such a unique format. The books may be thick but don’t let that stop you. Her books just flow along about serious issues and get right to the heart of the topics, no matter she chooses to write on. The characters are so well explored and distinct. I’d recommend this for those who like darker YA fiction about mental illness.

Book review: Solitaire by Alice Oseman

HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2015

This enticing and compelling read is not a quick page-turner but instead delves into depression and how a conformist attitude hurts the victims, perpetrators, even the extremely passive bystanders like the main character, Tori. Individuals who chart their own course (love interest) seeking to change a world deadset on not changing are hurt worst. For Tori, it’s best to view everything as all good and don’t burden anyone which does more harm than good, but Tori isn’t herself as depicted by the previous highly exaggerated letter that’s at odds from who she is now: dulled by lack of not caring.

Mental breakdowns come out of the blue as they do in this book where Tori’s ramblings have no immediate backstory. Tori isn’t judgmental but instead mentally ill. The suicide attempt and self-harm relapse are written well and relatable.

This book doesn’t lend itself to problematic ideas but instead shows a realistic portrayal of mental health issues with the perfect amount of seriousness with a good climax breakdown that is a hopeful but realistic end to this story.

Book review: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Alfred A. Knopf, 2015

Violet and Finch both attend the same high school, and their first encounter takes place atop the Bell Tower, where Violet attempts suicide after surviving a car accident that kills her sister. Finch, a troubled kid with an abusive father, arrives there with the same intention but he saves her. This heartfelt YA fiction is about Violet and Finch’s friendship, love and mental illness. She’s the popular kid and an online blogger; he is the high school weirdo.

Violet struggles with survivor’s guilt and her parents refuse to acknowledge her trauma. Finch is quirky, fun, tortured, misunderstood, poor, easy to pity child bursting with originality, vigor, and enthusiasm. 

Violet and Finch are forced together to work on a school project where they must explore Indiana. Finch, with his carefree, spontaneous attitude, takes the assignment to heart and they set out to find all of the bright places in Indiana. In doing so they explore their relationship.

The book, similar in tone to The Fault in Our Stars, explores falling in love and that same love but fading some months later. The two characters try to fix each other but Violet is filled with regret and Finch is obsessed with death which the novel continuously explores. Ultimately, I agree with one of the reviewer’s blurbs at the front of the book that said something to the effect of this book isn’t meant for those suffering with mental illness but instead their friends.

Book review: Ghosts of Harvard by Francesa Scottoline Serritella

Random House, 2020

The protagonist, Cady Archer, goes to Harvard with the intention of finding details about the suicide of her brother, Eric, who had schizophrenia which creates a division in her family with her father supporting her intent, and her mother opposed because she’s in fear of losing her daughter as well.

Serritella deftly weaves together this highly textured and atmospheric study of historical knowledge and theoretical physics to build an interesting, gripping mystery, as opposed to a typical ghost story. While high-functioning, Eric, did have psychotic episodes, and he stopped taking medication, as he became dedicated to his research on entanglement theory in a notebook that can only be described as a cryptic map of sorts which Cady ends up using in her search for what ultimately happened to her brother.

Like her brother before her, Cady, in mourning as well as danger, also “hears voices,” but are they hallucinations, aspects of medieval science or quantum physics bending time and space, or are they ghosts from Harvard’s past? Perhaps all of the above? Fortunately for Cady, one of the voices helps her escape a rapist.

What she discovers is quite startling and troubling but is a page-turning read. All in all, it’s not the YA fiction about mental illness that I’m used to reading. It came across as more supernatural with some stereotypical characters but ultimately was a well written, witty, suspenseful, and interesting read about personal growth.

Book review: Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

Delacorte Press, 2016

Girl in Pieces talks is a masterfully created emotional rollercoaster about self-harm, sexual assault, eating disorders, depression, suicide, alcohol and drug addiction so there is a trigger warning for anyone seeking to read this book. This novel doesn’t romanticize or glorify self-harm and mental health and reveals dark depictions of homelessness and abuse. Kathleen Glasgow masterfully shows the inner turmoil of someone battling mental health issues. The book has its readers walk along with the protagonist, Charlie Davis on her journey from waking up in a Minnesota psychiatric hospital to a sudden discharge back to the same life that drove her there. She should be dead by now.

As the title suggests, Charlie attempts to pick up the pieces of herself and make herself whole again throughout the book. Every time Charlie would go two steps forward, she’d fall two steps back and may not off the happy ending we always hope for in a read that tackles the less spoken issues in society such as suicide down to less triggering topics as our health care insurance system whose lack of healthcare puts Charlie back out from where she came.

As Charlie grapples with toxic relationships, an unfixed past, and an unsteady future, she must make a decision to fix herself or stay shattered. Girl in Pieces is raw, blunt, and acknowledged a lot of the struggles that are normally not written about like the recovery aspect of mental illness and the ups and downs of healing.

Book review: More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

Soho Teen, 2020

More Happy Than Not, by Adam Silvera is a powerful and authentic Young Adult contemporary novel that follows a teenage boy, Aaron, and his struggles with sexuality, suicide, and family starting with summer break with his girlfriend Genevieve in a small, poor environment, and his desire to straighten himself out. He begins moving on from his father’s suicide as well as his own attempt.

A happy change for Aaron is befriending Thomas, another teen, because this friendship feels more genuine than his others. Now though this is a realistic novel, what’s different about Aaron’s world is an organization called Leteo, which helps people suppress their memories.

This book tackles difficult issues and relies on its strong cast of fully fleshed out main characters with issues and vulnerabilities to pull it through. The protagonist and his problems with mental health, as well as his quest to find happiness came across as realistic. The plot of this book itself is very much rooted in the actions and wants of the characters, and full of brain-wracking plot twists, themes of happiness/unhappiness, and bittersweet endings.

The author is great at weaving in the sci-fi elements of the story with a realistic portrayal of growing up gay in the Bronx with a twist that I didn’t see coming, while all the while being incredibly engrossing, thoughtful, devastating, and interesting with wonderful teenage character voices.

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