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Book Review

This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Elise Dembowski was nearly 16 when she tried to remake herself. She spent a summer studying the latest magazines and pop culture, bought new clothes and did everything she could to fit in. When her efforts failed miserably, Elise attempted suicide. Before she could hurt herself too badly, she realized she really craved attention, not death. She made a phone call to a more popular girl at school, who had been relatively kind to her. When Elise admitted she’d tried to kill herself, the girl called the police.

Seven months pass. Elise still alternates between living at Dad’s house and staying at the home Mom shares with her new family. Elise has gone to therapy, and both parents are still watching her closely to make sure she doesn’t do anything dangerous. Some nights, she can’t fall asleep at Mom’s house. She starts sneaking out late at night just to walk.

One night, she stumbles on an underground dance club called Start. Two 18-year-old girls, Vicky and Pippa, know the bouncer, Mel, and get Elise into the club. Elise is overwhelmed to have the girls treating her like a friend. She also loves the music and the excitement of the club. She soon meets Char, who is the DJ and Pippa’s crush.

Elise begins returning to Start on a regular basis and becomes friends with Char. One night he leaves her alone with his equipment, and she’s forced to DJ. He tells her afterward that he believes she has talent, and he starts letting her DJ during part of his shift. Pippa returns to her home in England for a while because of her parents’ concern about her drinking problem. Elise and Char begin having a sexual relationship.

The owner of Start is impressed with Elise’s DJ skills and offers her a job DJing Friday nights. In order to keep up her double life and accept the job offer, Elise has to get her parents to switch custody days around. Her father gets less and less time with her and begins feeling hurt and angry.

Char is jealous that Elise has been offered this prime DJ time slot. Pippa also returns around this time and learns about Char’s fling with Elise. Char breaks things off with Elise and goes back to Pippa.

At school, Elise starts eating lunch with a couple of girls who are obsessed with the popular crowd. Some of the popular girls show up at Start one night and see Elise. She has them kicked out. Elise discovers someone is writing a blog in her name about why she tried to kill herself. All the kids at school know about it and think these are Elise’s words and thoughts.

While life at school still stinks, her friends and experiences at Start give her hope and purpose. After Char breaks off their relationship, Elise gets angry. She destroys her beloved half-sister’s poetry castle because she’s afraid the little girl will turn out weird like her. Elise’s mom and stepfather decide Elise needs to stay with her dad for a while. When Elise sneaks out of Dad’s house to go to Start, he follows her and learns her secret.

Rather than forbidding her to set foot in Start again, as Elise expects, her parents set some parameters so she can still take the job. Elise enjoys her first big night at Start, with her dad looking on. She gives Vicky’s band an opportunity to play, and they sound great. Elise asks Vicky’s younger brother to the upcoming formal dance at her school, and he gladly accepts. Elise is finally happy in her own skin, and she loves being surrounded by friends.

Christian Beliefs

Char jokingly tells Elise that he learned to dance at church youth group.

Other Belief Systems

In fourth grade, Elise accidentally drove a new friend away by saying she wanted to form a witches’ coven and burn incense.

Authority Roles

Elise’s involved parents are concerned and watchful when they learn about her suicide attempt. They allow her to continue working as a DJ in a club — despite her age and sneaky behavior — because they feel she has discovered her passion. Mom says she doesn’t approve of Elise’s recklessness but that it wouldn’t be fair to stop her from doing something she loves so much. Mom urges Elise to talk to her about her activities rather than trying to hide them. The parents’ biggest concern is Elise’s safety getting to and from the venue, so they decide Dad will always drive her to Start. Dad tells her not to let anyone else decide her life for her.


The Lord’s name is used in vain many times in various forms. B--ch, s---, a--, h---, d--n, suck, slut, slag (British for slut), p--- and c--ksucker also appear frequently.


The text includes many mentions of boob jobs, hooking up, making out, blow jobs and other teen sexual activity. Sally’s parents examine her before she leaves the house to make sure she doesn’t look like a “street walker.” Her parents won’t let her read any books with sex in them.

On her first visit to Start, Elise sees two guys French kissing and grabbing each other’s rear ends. When another girl sees Elise without a bra after a scoliosis test at school, people begin to call Elise a lesbian. Mel, the Start bouncer, talks about the struggles of being a gay, black teen in Arkansas. Mel tells a girl in a fur that she shouldn’t wear something like that unless she’s a drag queen.

Pippa gets drunk and passes out. A strange guy holds her head up against the wall and grinds into her, groping her chest. When Vicky confronts the stranger, he tells her Pippa was fine with it. Vicky calls him a pervert. Char sleeps with Pippa. He admits to Elise that he only did it because Pippa is hot. After Pippa goes back to England, Char and Elise start sleeping together. The book describes them pulling off shirts, pants and her bra and rolling around together on the bed. They also have intense make-out sessions in the DJ booth.

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol: A fair amount of drinking, including underage drinking, takes place at Start. Pippa has a drinking problem and gets groped after passing out on the dance floor. Her parents make her come back to England for a while when they find out the money they gave her for a winter coat went toward alcohol. Alcohol is a bit of an unknown to Elise. Her mom and stepdad don’t drink, and her father only drinks a little beer on occasion. Before Start, she wasn’t used to being around party settings. Char doesn’t understand why she won’t drink. He says lots of 16-year-olds drink, and he thinks she should take advantage of the free alcohol she gets as a DJ. Start owner Pete offers Elise a drink. She refuses. He tells Elise he doesn’t drink because he was once at a party where everyone but him was drunk and/or high. He discovered they were all acting like idiots. This realization made him enroll in AA and NA.

Bullying: Mean girls at Elise’s school make a number of rude and belittling remarks toward her. They take out an ad in the yearbook offering to give Elise a makeover they say she desperately needs. One writes a blog in Elise’s name, going on and on about why Elise wants to kill herself.

Anorexia: Vicky, who says she’s fat now, admits that she was skinny in high school because she threw up everything she ate. She says she believed everyone loved a skinny girl. Therapy helped her overcome her eating disorder, although she did start smoking to keep her weight down.

Suicide: When Elise decides to kill herself, she goes over a list of possible ways to die. She won’t use a gun because she is pro gun control. She won’t hang herself because she doesn’t think she has the necessary engineering skills, and she doesn’t want to look on the internet to learn how to make a noose. She considers overdosing on something, but she knows most of her dad’s pills are holistic medicines. She settles on cutting herself until she bleeds to death, and she sets to work finding a blade. Then she makes a playlist of music by which to die. She starts to think about how the relationship between Dad and Mom will get worse if her dead body is found in Dad’s house. She goes on to describe the blood coming out of her body after she cuts lines in her wrist with an X-Acto blade. Months after this, Elise says she still thinks about suicide. She says she doesn’t think about it in an active way, but it’s like something comforting to have near you in case you need it. She likens it to having a lucky stone you can pull out of your pocket and rub in your fingers.

Lying: Elise says she doesn’t like to lie outright, but she ends up having to do it quite a bit to keep her life at Start a secret from her parents.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

12 and up


Leila Sales






Record Label



Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers


On Video

Year Published



YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2014; BuzzFeed Best Young Adult Books, 2013 and others


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