REVIEW: Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff

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Title: Playlist for the Dead
Author: Michelle Falkoff
Format: Hardcover, 288 pages
Publication: January 27th 2015 by HarperTeen
Source: Bought from National Book Store
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Contemporary, Realistic
Other classifications: Bullying, Depression and Mental Illness, Young Adult

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There was a party.
There was a fight.
The next morning, Sam’s best friend, Hayden, was dead.
All he left Sam was a playlist—and a note, saying that he took his own life.


To figure out what happened, Sam has to rely on the playlist and his own memory. But the more he listens, the more he realizes that his memory isn’t as reliable as he thought. Especially when someone claiming to be Hayden starts sending him cryptic messages, and a series of violent attacks begins on the bullies who made Hayden’s life hell.

Sam knows he has 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 people around him—including an eccentric, unpredictable girl who’s got secrets, too—that Sam will finally be able to piece together his best friend’s story. And maybe have a chance to change his own.


I would be lying if I say I couldn’t not read Playlist for the Dead fast enough. Falkoff made me want to swallow her debut novel whole. Like, in those times I had to stop to do something, I wanted so badly to ditch real life and go back to reading. That’s how I know Playlist for the Dead will be so, so good.

“Of course I was there; where else would I be? Hanging out with all my other friends? Oh, no, wait—I didn’t have any.”

At times intriguing, at times heartrending, and fundamentally arresting, this novel easily made its way to my instant favorites. The narrator, Sam, has an incredibly compelling voice that can be lined up with that of Charlie from Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the pacing is perfect—gradual in its revelation but not too much of a drag so as to infuriate the reader. Plus, the playlist. For a set of songs made to explain a suicide, I rather like most of it.

“”Is that all you’ve got?” she asked. “Usually when someone initiates an introduction, you should ask her name.”

It wasn’t before long when I realized Sam Goldsmith will be a beloved character. Eight pages in and he already is. And it was to my comfort and delight to find out, in the end, I was not deluded. Sam is gawky and nerdy and witty, with a subtle undertone of snarky. If I ever see him in flesh, I’d bug him into signing a friendship contract. But, really, I love how he’s loyal to Hayden for the entirety of the book. Props to the action he took at the later part when faced with a conflict. It’s pretty evident, though, that he was omitting things. But that only served to tend the embers of my burning curiosity to know what actually happened. I also adore the family story arc. Mrs. Goldsmith isn’t just “the protagonist’s parent;” she is a character. And so is Rachel, Sam’s sister. The portrayal of sibling relationship in here is realistic, in that it captures how siblings don’t always dance to the same tune but crises pull them together. Intact and looking out for one another. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“”I’ll be okay,” I said, and I wanted it to be true.”

Falkoff has an arsenal of identifiable, complex secondary characters. Playlist for the Dead reads as an angsty YA, sure, but it is also a portrait of teenagers trying to balance on the precarious tightrope between wanting to find a place in the society and navigating the sea of expectations imposed upon by the various people surrounding them. Readers will definitely sympathize.

“Weren’t people supposed to wear black to funerals? She looked like she was off to a fucking garden party.”

Over the course of years, I became more and more perceptive of the opening paragraphs of the novels I read, and I think Playlist of the Dead‘s is very telling of the tone of the story. I laud the author for knitting together alienation and friendship and misconception and redemption adeptly. And, ultimately, the hopeful conclusion. In the end, it has as much to do with listening as it is about the songs. Go read Playlist for the Dead!

4.5 out of 5


Michelle Falkoff

Michelle Falkoff’s fiction and reviews have been published in ZYZZYVADoubleTake, and the Harvard Review, among other places. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and currently serves as Director of Communication and Legal Reasoning at Northwestern University of Law. This is her first novel.

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7 thoughts on “REVIEW: Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff

  1. Now I’m pretty pumped for this. I also saw that the hardcover isn’t expensive so if ever I loved it (whenever I get to reading my ARC I dunno), I think I’ll buy it. Being compared to Perks is such a huge burden for a book but I’m glad it lived up to it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. i really am fascinated by the cover though, despite the fact that i still haven’t got a scan of it and since im totally a bookworm, i really wanted to read this, thanks for this review 🙂


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