Playlist for the Dead Review: Sometimes We Just Need to Take a Step Back and Listen

June 20, 2016 by Aila J. | 4 stars, Books, Reviews

Playlist for the Dead Review: Sometimes We Just Need to Take a Step Back and ListenPlaylist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff
Published by HarperTeen on January 27th 2015
Source: Won
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
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Here’s what Sam knows: 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 of songs—and a note, saying that he took his own life. But what Sam doesn’t know is: Why?

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 the 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.

This was a rather bittersweet story that focuses on the aftermath of a suicide, and the best friend who was left to discover how to continue on after experiencing such an event. The synopsis gives a bit of a Thirteen Reasons Why feeling, but doesn’t feature the angst-driven plot that the latter book employs. (I actually didn’t enjoy Thirteen Reasons Why, but that’s another tale.) Basically in the beginning, Sam finds his best friend Hayden dead. He’s left with a rather mysterious note telling him to listen to the playlist that Hayden left behind before overdosing. With those songs in hand, Sam starts a journey that will make him question what he knew about his friend.

If there’s one thing I learned from the playlist, it’s how important listening to people can be.

There’s a lot of different factors that drove Hayden towards his death, as Sam finds out in the book. At first he’s pretty lost, after realizing that his best – and pretty much only – friend isn’t in the world anymore. But then he meets Astrid, who is pretty eccentric and starts to hang out with her friend group. It really opens a door for him and makes him realize that it’s possible for him to have more than just one friend, even if other friends don’t exactly have the same interests.


Basically, Hayden and Sam were always together and liked the same geeky things and songs. Hayden was also bullied a lot by his brother Ryan and Ryan’s two friends (called the bully trifecta). I think the author did a really great job in exploring the relationship between bully and bullied. There are always two sides to a story, and while you might not like the other side, it’s always worth hearing about. Anyways, it’s obvious that being bullied was part of what drove Hayden to take his life, and Sam just wishes that karma would teach the bullies a thing or two. But the thing is – when does it go too far? Before he knows it, one of the guys is getting beaten up and the other was publicly humiliated. Sam has to really debate whether these kind of actions are really what will fix things, in the end.

People are going to say a lot of things. And some of it will be helpful, and some of it will be annoying, and lots of it will get on your nerves. But they’re saying it because they found it helpful when they lost someone. They mean well.

Some factors that made this book enjoyable include a supportive mom on Sam’s side, as well as a believable sister relationship that is strained but becomes better as the book progresses. Sam’s mom was really great throughout the story; she’s a quiet character, but she’s there and not stuck in the background. She’s quietly supporting Sam even as she watches out for both him and his sister. She’s also super hard-working and a single parent. It was really nice to see that kind of parent character. Although the guidance counselor played a small role, it was also great to see a positive representation of that kind of adult’s role in Sam’s life. I thought it was superbly written since it wasn’t IN HUGE LETTERS, but rather slipped into the story – just like how it just slips into life sometimes.


I think this story had a great message, although the playlist didn’t exactly contribute in that aspect (it was more for symbolism, really). The author explores the characters’ relationships quite realistically, even if it may be bittersweet at times. I would have liked to have seen more of an exploration of Hayden’s depression, but it makes sense that Sam wouldn’t fully understand that aspect of Hayden’s life; otherwise, the portrayal of suicide and bullying definitely leaves a hopeful message that will surely touch readers’ hearts.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5



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Aila is a young adult reader who loves to transport herself to new dimensions through reading. She's currently an undergraduate student at university in the US. Let's talk about our obsessions on Twitter @aila_1woaa!


32 responses to “Playlist for the Dead Review: Sometimes We Just Need to Take a Step Back and Listen

    • I get why you wouldn't be drawn to this type of book then, Christy. 🙁 I think that it deals with the topic pretty well, but yeah it's definitely a difficult subject to write and read about.

  1. Rachel Lightwood

    Woah, you've totally convinced me to add this to my TBR now! It sounds super sweet and moving and just what I need after reading a super popular book about suicide that just didn't work for me (*cough* All the Bright Places *cough*). Great review, Aila! I'll definitely be checking this out.

    • Yay Rachel! I'm so glad I could convince you 🙂 It is super moving, and the messages it carries will certainly resonate.

    • I was actually surprised by the amount of bullying in this story, but it's definitely worth the read! I like the contemporary YA that deals with letting go despite the injustices dealt. It really reflects real life, and really gives readers a dose of reality.

  2. Great review! I've been interested in reading this one for a while because I really love reading about all the subjects it covers. It sounds like an emotional book, but they're my favourites so I'll definitely be trying to read it soon! So good to hear you enjoyed it.

    • Oh if you like these subjects, then definitely give this one a go! It covers them pretty well (except depression, but it's really not this narrator's story to tell) and gives a very hopeful message in the end.

  3. I wasn't expecting the protagonist to be a guy in this book so that was a nice surprise when I read your review. I actually didn't enjoy Thirteen Reasons Why either but this book sounds really good and right up my alley cos I love dem sad books 🙂

    • Oh I know you do 😉 It was pretty cool to see it from a guy's perspective! And it's super light on the romance too – almost not there.

      OMG THO FINALLY someone who didn't like Thirteen Reasons Why too!! Seriously, I don't see why everyone loved it. It was absymally urealistic with the worst characters. Nope nope nope

  4. This sounds like a very honest and realistic contemporary, so I am so glad to hear you enjoyed it so much Aila! I'm definitely going to have to give it a try. 🙂 Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous review! <3

    • Thank you, sweet Zoe! <3 If you are up for a heartfelt contemporary that deals with tough issues, then definitely consider picking this one up. It wasn't too sad either – still a bit light!

  5. sydneyeditor1

    Bittersweet is right — I'm glad the author managed to pull off such a tough topic well. It's hard to do I think.

    • Oh it definitely is, from what I've seen and read in the past. Nevertheless, I think young adults should really have exposure to these types of topics and find solace if they're experiencing something similar. I definitely appreciate this author's take on it!

    • Same Mel. Although I don't read it much in fiction though because I usually prefer to lose myself in a fantasy world. I'm glad that this book wrote about it so tastefully!

    • Oh I'm so glad you enjoyed Thirteen Reasons Why and are planning on picking this one up! I think that if you liked the former book, you'll also like this one as well. 🙂 They both cover similar topics, and this one has more of an upbeat tone.

  6. Angel @Angel Reads

    This sounds like a powerful read, and there needs to be books like this out here. I think sometimes people forget that it's not only the family that is left in pieces after a suicide, but the others as well. I don't know if I will be pick this up, reading books about suicide are so hard for me, it took me years to pick up Thirteen reasons Why. But I love that it has some good family relationships, it's so hard to find them in YA sometimes and I love to read them.

    Thanks for the review.
    My recent post Book Review: Ruined by Amy Tintera

    • Definitely, Angel! I know where you're coming from though, with books about suicide. It's a really tough subject that can be difficult to read at times, but I think this one was worth it. It carried a brave message of hope that I think will really touch readers.

      And YES to family relationships! It's great to see more of this in YA lit these days 🙂

  7. Alice

    This sounds like a really deep and meaningful book, and I'm so glad it handles the issues well! I also love it when parents are actually present in the books and have an important impact, rather than just being parents who are non-existent or work night shifts (like 99% of YA books lel). Also loving that picture you took of the book. 🙂
    Beautiful review Aila! <3

    • Thanks so much Alice! 🙂

      And you're right, I really like seeing all these present parents in young adult fiction these days. I remember when I first got into it, the parents were either never home or dead. But now we see so many unique perspectives that really reflect real life more, which is awesome to see.

  8. What a fantastic review Aila! I can definitely see where it was touching and told realistically by presenting two sides to every story. It's a shame it doesn't delve too deeply into the depression, but it sounds like you enjoyed it!

    • Thanks Jeann, and you're right! I thought that it was in essence a hopeful read that can provide some introspection for a reader. The topics that were focused on were done quite well, but yeah it would have been nice if I saw a bit from Hayden's point of view on depression, which was only touched upon in passing.

    • I totally feel you Nick. I couldn't give it the full four stars just because this was a topic that I found a bit hard to read. (My heart is very weak in fiction, I'll give you that). But nevertheless, I think the author did quite a good job in keeping these light despite the difficult situation.

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