Monday, January 19, 2015

Review: Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff

Title: Playlist for the Dead
Author: Michelle Falkoff
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: January 27th 2015
Pages: 288
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Edelweiss - I received a free eGalley of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
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A teenage boy tries to understand his best friend's suicide by listening to the playlist of songs he left behind in this smart, voice-driven debut novel.
Here's what Sam knows: There was a party. There was a fight. The next morning, his best friend, Hayden, was dead. And all he left Sam was a playlist of songs, and a suicide note: For Sam—listen and you'll understand.
As he listens to song after song, Sam tries to face up to what happened the night Hayden killed himself. But it's only by taking out his earbuds and opening his eyes to the people around him that he will finally be able to piece together his best friend’s story. And maybe have a chance to change his own.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Playlist for the Dead was a very "meh" kind of book. There's nothing I want to rant about, but nothing I really loved about it, either. The novel has potential, but it was a very underwhelming read for me that I don't really have an opinion about one way or the other.

Sam and Hayden, albeit a bit stereotypical, are fully-realized characters. They're trying a bit too hard to be alternative for my tastes - complaining about how bad top 40 music is does not make you a more interesting or sophisticated person - but I did feel for them. Sam and Hayden are sympathetic characters in their issues at school, and I felt for Sam throughout his struggle with losing Hayden. 

I also really like the message that the novel sends. While it seems a bit forced how every single storyline and character exemplifies this, I did appreciate the message of how people are complex and not always what they seem. The novel calls to consider that there are always multiple sides to a story, which works really well with what Sam learns over the course of the novel.

The actual, story, though, is lacking in parts. I found the whole thing kind of formulaic and repetitive, how Sam goes to one person to hear part of the story, and how conveniently it all ties together. In between hearing parts of the story from different people (without really having to figure anything out himself), there's a romance storyline that I liked at first but takes a really random path later on. I didn't have a real issue with any of these things, but nothing stood out as very original or surprising, either.

The whole mystery element is kind of strange. It started out interesting and if it was going somewhere, but then it just kind of... doesn't. I felt like the danger wasn't immediate enough to actually justify any sort of suspense. The possibly-supernatural elements don't really go anywhere either, and are just kind of explained away at the end, and the way the mystery resolve is very underwhelming and felt like a bit of a cop-out. That made some of the mysterious events seem kind of pointless, as if they were just added for suspense without really contributing anything to the story.

Judging from the title and description, I figured music would play an important role in figuring out what happened the night Hayden killed himself. The whole music aspect has a lot of potential, and it does take up a large part of the story; I like how every chapter is titled after a song on the playlist, and how its significance to Sam's and Hayden's relationship is always explained. But as for being part of the mystery or driving the storyline in any way, it was very underwhelming. We're led to believe these songs will reveal something about Hayden's decision, but then it just kind of doesn't. Even though I liked the musical aspect, that made the whole thing kind of pointless and disappointing, since the title makes it out to be so important.

I also had some issues in regards to portrayal of gender. Sam and Hayden have a very stereotypical nerd-view of women, in the sense that they are exotic creatures that they never really interact with; girls aren't really seen as people with real interests that you could have real conversations with. Astrid breaks that mold because she's a fully-realized character, but it still bothered me that Sam would only consider a romantic relationship with her as worthy and couldn't be just friends with her. Even worse are Hayden's romantic endeavors, in which romance is portrayed as the only meaningful relationship that could make life worth living. This was never really discussed, which bothered me throughout the novel.

I did like the characters and message that Playlist for the Dead sends, but the novel wastes a lot of potential on by introducing so many storylines that don't really go end up going anywhere. The solutions presented by the novel are very underwhelming, making the whole mystery element kind of pointless. While I did feel for the characters, the novel didn't evoke as many emotions in me as one with a topic this important could. Overall, this is an okay read, but I think there are better YA books about the same topic.


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