Thursday, March 12, 2015

Playlist For The Dead by Michelle Falkoff

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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.

Part mystery, part love story, and part coming-of-age tale in the vein of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Tim Tharp’s The Spectacular Now, Playlist for the Dead is an honest and gut-wrenching first novel about loss, rage, what it feels like to outgrow a friendship that's always defined you—and the struggle to redefine yourself. But above all, it's about finding hope when hope seems like the hardest thing to find.

Sam discovers his best friend Hayden dead. Not something that can be unseen.  He goes through the cycle of sadness, anger, guilt as he wonders if there was any way in which he could have prevented Hayden from taking his own life.  It’s always the ones left behind left with all the questions. Hayden had left Sam a playlist along with a note simply stating that he’d understand once he listened to the songs. Putting the pieces back together dredge up all sorts of memories. Trouble is, he’s no closer to understanding anything. 
Hayden’s death has also affected a lot of people which outrages Sam when he sees the hypocrisy of some of the mourners who claim to have loved him but were major players in traumatizing him when he was alive. His fury is specifically directed at Hayden’s older brother and his friends who used to bully him incessantly, and also at Hayden’s parents who were never kind to or accepting of their younger son. As much as he blames them, he also blames himself.

A mysterious girl named Astrid introduces herself to Sam after the funeral saying that she knew Hayden but doesn’t elaborate on how. He can add this to the growing list of things Hayden kept secret. Striking up a friendship with Astrid moves Sam from being a loner to a circle of friends that he wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. With them he realizes that there’s more to appearance and what you think you see about a person. Astrid’s complexity and role in Hayden’s life gnaws at him and he’s anxious to get more details. In the meantime, the rumor mill is turning as some nasty things are happening to kids at school. Sam doesn't know what to think and in between lack of sleep, grief and hallucinations, he's worried that he could possibly have a role in some of the events taking place.

There are a few books I’ve read and reviewed previously that dealt with the aftermath of suicide. Each one had the protagonist searching for clues and answers to explain what they found hard to accept. Yet with these similarities, each one of these stories handled the theme differently. Playlist shows Sam admitting his confusion and anger, even acknowledging that he'd like to see some kind of vengeance on those whom he feels were responsible for making Hayden miserable while he was alive. However, he's also capable of being rational.  Each chapter, titled after a song on the playlist, sets up the mood and also provides both good and painful memories that help to describe the depth of their friendship. Sam is persistent about uncovering the truth which means he also has to come to terms with how he and Hayden left things shortly before the latter's death.

I'm always surprised when I'm drawn to what I expect to be morbid books. The thing is, I didn't find Playlist to be a depressing affair. His recollection of his friendship with Hayden are all he has to hold on to. I enjoyed reading how they'd spar over who had the better taste in music, often to just rile each other up. There's appreciation for the special language they shared and their loyalty. Sam's loss and bewilderment are natural, his feeling of betrayal when he discovers things about Hayden he didn't know previously are valid. Despite that, what got to me most was his ability to get to a point of forgiveness. Not all the questions are answered because that would be impossible. Faced with that reality, Sam must adjust to life without his best friend and he has to learn to accept that it's okay. The healing will come as he figures this out one day at a time.

~ Bel

      Playlist for the Dead

If you'd like to know what songs are included in Playlist For The Dead, Michelle Falkoff has put a Spotify playlist together. It's brilliant! Enjoy!

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