It’s been a long time since I reviewed anything. Oops. Anyway, Playlist for the Dead was… very good, but flawed. It was by all means not a perfect book, but I still really liked it.
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.
I’m going to start off with the positive things here- because even if I didn’t love this book, I still really enjoyed it.
Playlist for the Dead was a complex story. It dealt a lot with how a lot of the time, people aren’t really what they seem at first glance. Almost every single one of the characters had more to them than Sam initially realized, which was something that I really enjoyed. The novel seemed quite shallow at first, but as the story progressed, you started to realize that everyone had their own motivations and struggles.
Also, I actually recognized quite a few of the songs and the bands they mentioned! Sam and Hayden’s musical tastes were pretty similar to mine. They brought up Paramore, The Ramones, Vampire Weekend, Blink-182, Florence and the Machine, and even Fabulous Killjoys/ Umbrella Academy (not sure which one, just that it was “a comic book series written by the lead singer of My Chemical Romance”). That was a nice surprise.
I also really liked the writing style. It was concise and not all purple prose and pointlessly confusing metaphors (I’m lookin’ at you, We Were Liars).
But now on to the not-so-good stuff. Because it was definitely there.
The ending was a ginormous disappointment. It felt like the entire book was leading up to something that just… didn’t happen (spoilers in the white text because I REALLY NEED TO DISCUSS THIS). The playlist was just a McGuffin. It had absolutely nothing to do with the mystery? Sam spent the entire book trying to figure out what it meant, and then there was just… nothing. And the Athena “plot twist” was completely predictable. I know who Athena was from the start. I guess I kind of get it- the point of the story was mostly that Sam needed to stop dwelling on the past and learn to move forward- but I think that needed to be hinted at throughout the story, instead of treating it like a mystery and then suddenly spinning around and completely forgetting the playlist. It was frustrating.
I think that was partially because of another difficulty with this book- it didn’t have anything specific it wanted to accomplish plot-wise. It was a romance, a mystery, a coming of age story, and a bunch of other stuff. I feel like it would’ve been a lot more heartfelt and meaningful and stuff if it had just decided what story it wanted to tell.
Anyway, one last thing I’d really like to discuss, because I have very mixed feelings about it as well- the book’s treatment of suicide.
On one hand, it did a very, very good job of pointing out the fact that even when it seems like you’re completely alone in the world, there are people who care. Hayden’s death pretty much shattered the worlds of the people around him, even though he made it pretty clear that he felt as though he was alone and didn’t matter.
But then, on the other hand… the fact that it’s told from Sam’s point of view instead of Hayden’s gives it a sort of emotional distance. And there was the fact that it gave a huge impression that there’s always a reason for suicide. Although I’ve never been in that position myself, from my understanding, there isn’t always a set in stone reason. I dunno. I don’t feel completely qualified to discuss this, but Feminist Fiction does a very good job with it.
Anway… a good book that had a heck of a lot of potential but just didn’t really accomplish everything that it could have.
Three stars out of five, but definitely recommended to people who like three dimensional characters.