Book Review | ‘Playlist for the Dead’ by Michelle Falkoff

I get easily bored these days. There I was, lying down on my bed, scrolling through my dad’s Amazon account. I surfed through all the YA recommendations that popped up with every new search. My thumb was pulsing with pain with the movement, and that’s when I decided to give up.

As I was about to close the application, my eyes landed on a teal green book cover with black headphones. The title was in paint streaks of dark blue, white, and yellow. It said ‘Playlist for the Dead’.

I clicked on the cover and scrolled through the page. The blurb sounded intriguing, the ratings were good (an average rating of 4.4 on Amazon), and the reviews gushed about the writing.

Maybe this was another satisfying read waiting for me.

And so, with a shrug, I ordered the book (with the courtesy of using my dad’s credit card, of course).

But I was in for a huge surprise.

Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff

‘There was a party. There was a fight. The next morning, Sam’s 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.’

‘To figure out what happened, Sam has to rely on the playlist and own his memory. But the more he listens, the more he realizes that his memory isn’t as reliable as he thought. And it might only be by taking out his earbuds and opening his eyes to the people around him that he’ll finally be able to piece together his best friend’s story. And maybe have a chance to change his own.’

The blurb ends with a précis of the novel, inching the to-be reader to turn the cover on to its first page. It describes the novel as a part-mystery, part love story, and part coming-of-age tale with a here and there of Thirteen Reasons Why, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and The Spectacular Now.

Let’s see how that turned out now, shall we?

How did I find the cover? The cover was minimal and clean. It passed on a young adult vibe of recklessness (the irregular streaks of the title) and the golden years of being a teenager (bright colours). For me, the bright colours serve as a contrast to the dark and gloomy thought(s) of committing suicide or being a suicide survivor itself.

Not to mention, when I put a photo of the book on my Instagram story with the phrase ‘New Read!’, one of my classmates replied to the story. He thought I was showing off a box of some new headphones (the cover does have a headphone).

I had a good laugh as soon as I saw the reply so I’ll give some points for that.

How is the blurb? Simple and on to the point. It does the job.

What is the storyline about? [SPOILERS AHEAD! Please read at your own risk.]

‘Playlist for the Dead’ is narrated from the viewpoint of a boy named Sam. His best friend, Hayden, has committed suicide. All Hayden has left Sam is a playlist with twenty-seven songs. Hayden asks Sam to listen to the playlist, and understand why did the former choose to take that road.

As Sam tries to decipher the playlist and cope up with Hayden’s death, a girl named Astrid enters his life. Astrid helps Sam in figuring out the meaning of the playlist. Sam also has to figure out the identity of the person impersonating Hayden’s gamer identity. The unknown person talks to him, conveying to him an act of revenge for the people who were responsible for Hayden’s death.

In the midst of this journey, Sam is attracted towards Astrid, leading to some fiddling and fumbling and both of them forming a couple. This leads Sam to meet people he had never bothered to talk to. The more he socializes, the more secrets he unearths. And all of them are connected.

Sam finds out that Hayden was not the one he thought he was. Every character is connected to his death in some way or another; either in a good way or a bad way. And Astrid? She isn’t the good girl we predicted her to be.

My judgment for the writing? At the beginning of the novel, the writing felt deep. Sam’s sorrow of losing his only friend radiated to me. I could feel him lost without a companion and angry at accepting his incoming loneliness. He felt desolate while dressing up for his friend’s funeral.

When Sam and Astrid come together, he develops. He starts talking to people, trying to complete the puzzle. He goes from this shy geek to a teenager seeking answers. He seeks the person who talks to him through Hayden’s gamer identity through Mage Warfare. He wants to stop that person before they cause any harm to any of the characters. We, as the readers, invisibly tag along with him on his journey.

As Sam talks to more and more people, the writing starts to become boring. I didn’t feel any excitement whenever new questions arose in Sam’s mind. And before some of them even came up, I had realized the answers already.

Honestly, it wasn’t a surprise when the reveal happened. I had already felt it coming.

In the end, the writing feels sloppy. The ending is rushed; Sam talks to more people and improves socially and how the others embark on their futures.

And as for the playlist, it acts as a ruse for the reader to pick up the book from the shelves. But in reality, it does not lead to anything whatsoever. The excitement I had at the start fizzled out when I reached the ending.

What’s my opinion on the characters? Sam is a very relatable character. His feelings throughout the story are full of questions. They are uncertain yet hopeful. He has moderate character development, and that is pretty reasonable if I might say so. He starts talking to people instead of taking the back seat, and that is truly great.

Hayden is a complex character, and so is Astrid. Both of them are very secretive and mysterious. Their void of darkness hides underneath their happiness. I find Hayden to be very annoying (not going to lie). Apart from the fact that he is dyslexic, his attitude vexed me.

I loved Astrid’s sparkly bag and the extensions in her hair, though. It reminded me of sunlight shining through at the end of a dark tunnel. She’s quirky but mysterious. I believe that is one of the driving points of the story.

However, I feel that there are too many characters. These many characters confuse the reader as they create several situations. It jumbles up the entire plot as several parallel storylines are running by, and they merge roughly. If this was a television series, the characters could have been easily identified. However, this attempt of creating another Thirteen Reasons Why did not sum up well.

My overall opinion? ‘Playlist for the Dead’ does not live up to the mark that the blurb has set. The writing is choppy; in some parts, it is lovely, and in others, it is not. The only things that made this up as a young adult novel were the setting, the characters, and the playlist.

About the Author

Michelle Falkoff

Michelle Falkoff is the author of Playlist for the Dead, Pushing Perfect, and Questions I Want to Ask You. Her fiction and reviews have been published in ZYZZYVA, DoubleTake, and the Harvard Review, among other places. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and currently serves as Director of Communication and Legal Reasoning at Northwestern University School of Law. 

To know more about Michelle Falkoff, you can check out her website right here.

Find Playlist for the Dead on Goodreads and Amazon.

Please do note that these are my personal opinions of the novel. If you wish to read more reviews about the book, you can find them here at The Guardian and The Book Bag (or Amazon’s comments section 😜)

What are your opinions of ‘Playlist for the Dead’? Do comment below!

Until next time, then!

With all of love, PJ 💖

<strong>PJ Morven</strong>
PJ Morven

Hi there! I’m Aparna, a fifteen-year-old girl from India. I write under the pen name, PJ Morven, on the orange app, Wattpad, with the username ‘writerophile’.


6 thoughts on “Book Review | ‘Playlist for the Dead’ by Michelle Falkoff

  1. Woah! This is a superb, extensive review that definitely helped me give an in-depth look into book, so thank you for that!

  2. Oooo I expected that the book would be good but 😭. Anyways loved your review about the characters and plot. (but do wish you could minimize spoilers too! )

  3. Great review! I don’t like reading books that are hyped and end up being a ruse. I always feel scammed.

    You’re on Wattpad? I’ll follow up there, too.

    1. Thanks, Fade! Books that are hyped and end up being not what you expected them to be (in a bad way) do not please the reader at all. Thanks for reading! (And, yes, I’m on Wattpad too! Currently, I haven’t put up anything since most of my works are in the stage of writing/editing, so, yup.)

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