Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Book Review: Playlist For the Dead

Rating: 2/5

A couple days ago I officially finished reading Playlist For the Dead by Michelle Falkoff.  So naturally, a book review is in order. I first saw this book while perusing the bookstore in the town near my college.  It was the title and appealing cover that made me linger, but it was reading the description, which reminded me all too much of 13 Reasons Why - a personal YA favorite of mine - that immediately put this novel on my to-read list.

Warning: Contains spoilers!]

Much like 13 Reasons Why, the novel Playlist For the Dead centers around a suicide, along with the clues that have been left behind for someone else to follow.  The night after having a fight at a party, Sam returns to his friend Hayden's house, only to find him in his room, dead.  The suicide note he leaves behind reads, "For Sam - listen and you'll understand," along with a playlist of songs.  Now, it's up to Sam to listen to each song on the list, and through this, begin to understand their connection to Hayden and reasons for why he left... Or so I thought would happen.  And so a lot of people thought would happen, which seems to be the case after scrolling through several other reviews of this book.  I mean, you can't blame us.  With a book titled, Playlist For the Dead, seemingly focused around music, we can't help but assume that music is going to be a large part of the plot.  Oh sure, each song from the playlist appears as a header at the beginning of each chapter.  And occasionally, Sam will recall a memory of Hayden and him having a conversation about a certain band.  But aside from those brief instances, music doesn't truly have any deep connection to the plot other than simply for the sake of giving Sam something to try to figure out through the entire book.  And in fact, throughout the entire book, Sam has no clue what he's doing or what these songs are supposed to mean.  The number of times there's a passage in which Sam listens to a song for hours, trying to decode the lyrics, and then eventually either utters something like, What does this mean?! or flat-out gives up is ridiculous.

 I was really wanting this book to be like 13 Reasons Why, where perhaps Sam might listen to the first song and connect it to a certain event, and then one after the other, each song guides him to a new event or memory, until by the final song, Sam finally truly understands, just as Hayden wanted him to.  I want to read that book.  But alas, this was not the book.  It doesn't appear that any of the songs lead to some sort of breakthrough, and Sam only guesses at what a song might mean, but is never fully positive, nor do these songs lead Sam to do anything.  Worst of all, this book is so inconsistent with how often Sam actually listens to and tries to understand the songs from the playlist. There are times when the song title at the beginning of a chapter won't even be mentioned anywhere in that chapter.  So, why is it there?  Just to remind the readers that they're still reading Playlist For the Dead, even though half the time the playlist is left up in the air and only casually dealt with?  If this book is going to have connections with music, it needs to be a driving part of the plot with full force.  Okay, but my final music-related complaint about this book: Out of all the famous suicide songs out there, and with Hayden having been a Smiths fan, Asleep by the Smiths isn't in here?  Really?  I mean, I get that The Perks of Being a Wallflower kind of already put its mark on that song, but COME ON! It would've been so much better if that had been the last song of the playlist.

Now, besides the issue with this being an underwhelming music-driven novel, the other issue I had with this book is that it might as well have been titled, "How Sam Spent the Entire Novel Trying To Get With Astrid."  Seriously.  Early on in the book, Sam meets Astrid, who he finds out was a mutual friend of Hayden's that Sam never knew about.  Of course, he instantly likes her and spends a good chunk of his time whining about how Astrid should be with him instead of Eric, who is actually a really decent guy.  Yet another case of a guy feeling entitled after being "friendzoned"...  He even goes so far to say, "I didn't want to be someone who moved in one someone else's girlfriend," followed by, "If Astrid and I were going to get together, it had to start the right way, which meant she'd have to break up with him."  Oh, how noble of you.  No matter, though, because Sam eventually finds out that Eric is actually Astrid's gay friend and not at all her boyfriend.  Not only that, but Astrid likes Sam, too, and they finally get together and spend the second half of the novel kissing and otherwise being an adorable couple.  That is, until Sam finds out that Astrid was the one behind the mysterious attacks on the bullies who had made Hayden's life miserable before he died.  Naturally, Sam isn't too pleased that he's dating a girl who attacked two guys out of revenge, and this causes them to part ways (spoiler: it's hinted at the end that Sam will forgive Astrid anyway, so they're safe to continue being an adorable couple).

This brings us to the other title that this book should have had instead of Playlist For the Dead... A Story of Revenge.  Without getting too much into it, Hayden's older brother and his two friends had been constant bullies to Hayden before he died and there was an encounter with Hayden and them at a party the night before he died.  Having witnessed only part of the conversation himself, Sam is determined to put the pieces together and figure out what happened between Hayden and the "bully trifecta" at that party that night.  So essentially, the plot of this book is driven much more by a desire for revenge and a long string of "Who said who" as Sam talks to different people who were involved at the party that night and who all had some connection to Hayden that night.  Basically what I'm trying to say is, none of this had anything to do with the playlist at all.  Sam didn't solve the mystery of what happened to Hayden that night through his playlist like what the description of this book implies, but instead solves the mystery simply through talking to different people and putting the pieces together that way.  Once the mystery of why Hayden committed suicide is revealed (and to be honest, it's not that compelling of a reason...), Sam still doesn't really gain any answers from the playlist.  Throughout the novel, the playlist never serves any sort of purpose in relation to the larger plot.  It's just sort of there, doing nothing.  So why is it there?

With all of these complaints I've made about this novel, I want to stress that this is not a terrible book.  I didn't find myself dragging through this book, waiting for it to finish.  It was a reasonably enjoyable book, and I was on the edge of my hypothetical seat, wanting to know the answers myself and wondering what would happen next.  I just wish this book had come through with its promises around a more music-centered plot and having the playlist serve as a connection to Hayden that would give Sam the answers.  That being said, if you're not too attached to the idea of this being a book centered around music, and if you want a light, enjoyable YA summer read, then Playlist For the Dead will be a good addition to your to-read list. 

I hope you enjoyed this (slightly ranty) book review!  Stick around for more book posts on this blog, or head over to my book Tumblr for more bookish posts.

Until next time!
x Danielle

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