Tuesday, July 23, 2013

[Review: Famous Last Words by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski]

"Famous Last Words"
Author: Jennifer Salvato Doktorski
Pages: 288
Genre: YA Contemprary
Date Published: July 2nd, 2013
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co
Format Read: Finished hardcover


Sixteen-year-old Samantha D’Angelo has death on the brain. Her summer internship at the local newspaper has her writing obituaries instead of soaking up the sun at the beach. Between Shelby, Sam’s boy-crazy best friend; her boss Harry, a true-blue newspaper man; and AJ, her fellow “intern scum” (aka the cute drummer for a band called Love Gas), Sam has her hands full. But once she figures out what—or who—is the best part of her summer, will she mess it all up?

As Sam learns her way around both the news room and the real world, she starts to make some momentous realizations about politics, ethics, her family, romance, and most important—herself.

My Thoughts:

This is the 2nd book by Doktorski, her first novel (How My Summer Went Up In Flames) was a big hit with me and so I went into this one expecting greatness.  It lived up to my expectations, even if it wasn't fully what I was thinking it would be.  I have to tell you that I think Doktorski comes up with some of the most interesting and fun details and plot tools for her novels.  Placing our lead, Sam, in a local news paper and forcing her to write about dead people every day was a genius idea.  And there are large heaps of 80 references throughout the novel, as well as shout out to one of my favorite musicals "Rock of Ages".  (Though in all honesty Jennifer could have been eluding to the 80s song of the same title?)

It was fun to watch a writer learn how to write a good story.  And that's what we get while watching Sam.  She got a job at the local paper because she liked writing, but as the story unfolds and she learns more tools of her trade, it's fun.  Seriously, Sam makes writing about dead people seem like fun.  I also really enjoyed how she would sit down and write obituaries for the living people around her when they pissed her off or when they did something worth noting.  It made those moments stand out.  All in all, I liked Sam.  I think she was definitely in transition, which made some of her antics a little nerve grating, but as she grew and got comfortable in her own skin, she also grew on me as a reader.  She starts out so young and angsty, but she's also really strong.  She doesn't do anything that she doesn't want to do.  And it's when she realizes that it's okay to be different, while being surrounded by a ton of people who are different, that you really see her grow up and grow into her already oddly mature persona.  Plus, she really is clueless about boys.  I guess I liked her so much, because I could see a lot of teenage me in her character.

The side characters sometimes take the spotlight away from Sam, but I like that her personality stands out in a subtle way.  Her best friend Shelby is sure something.  Where Sam is very introverted and clueless when it comes to the man characters, Shelby knows what's up.  She feisty and spunky and not at all what you would guess Sam's bestie would be like.  As the novel progresses it's sad to see them grow apart, but they are both growing up and figuring things out.  I thought that Doktorski explored that aspect of redefining a long running friendship really well.

There are two boys in the novel, but I liked the way the triangle (if you could call it that) was handled.  While one attraction was slow burning and developed over the course of the book, the other was instant crush material.  I like how the whole thing was handled.  No one was professing undying love or pulling ridiculous gestures, it was honest.  I thought it was cool that they were both so different too.  A.J. is nerdy and has a pony tail and plays drums in a band.  While Tony (Coma Boy) is the rich, hot guy who is Sam's competition.  The only thing I wish is that Doktorski would have gone into both guys background a bit more.  They seemed interesting, but not as fleshed out as I would have liked.  Some deep stuff was hinted at, but never really explored.

I also appreciate the fact that Doktorski doesn't make things easy on her main characters.  Not only that, but the way that she does it.  There is always something really funny lurking in the background, ready to pounce and ruin a romantic moment, or something completely serious.  She also managed to weave in a whole Nancy Drew thread, that would have seemed weird, but somehow worked in Famous Last Words.  It helped wrap things up nicely and added some extra tension to the plot, cause sometimes teenage angst just isn't enough.

If you like contemporaries with quirky characters, strange plots and laugh out loud moments, then Famous Last Words might just be the right book for you.  I know it worked for me!

        4 Unicorns = Close to perfect!  


Giselle said...

"Sam makes writing about dead people seem like fun" LOL

This book sounds really cool! My husband is the IT guy for a funeral home business (they have all these websites lol) so I've always wondered how people manage to be in that business like always dealing with sadness etc. I think I'd really like this one. It sounds like it's a bit more than just a floofy book, too; great character building even with side characters for one. And well any book that can make me laugh out loud is a winner! :D

Eileen said...

I'm really that Sam was such a great character, from the way you're describing her she seems like such a fantastic protagonist. In fact, all of the characters just sound so well developed and amazing, especially also with the fact that the love triangle was well done, because those are always really hard to pull off.

Fantastic review, Christianna! :)

Natalie Natflixandbooks said...

This sounds great. I like that the character writes obituaries for her internship (and that she writes them for the living when they piss her off-lol) . That's pretty unique. It sounds like she is well-developed and that her long-term friendship is realistic. I'll definitely keep my eyes open for this one. Great review!

Nicole said...

"I also really enjoyed how she would sit down and write obituaries for the living people around her when they pissed her off or when they did something worth noting." Hah this sounds awesome! I agree that Doktorski puts some unique twists on her stories. My interest has definitely been piqued so I added this to the TBR!

Great review BTW!