In Famous Last Words by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski, 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.
The novel follows 16-year old Sam, a summer intern at a local newspaper, the Herald Tribune. Among her other “intern scum” duties, Sam shares obituary duty with fellow intern AJ, a sarcastic college intern. The newspaper office is filled with quirky characters, from Harry, her armadillo-loving boss, to Tony, known as Coma Boy to the rest of the newspaper staff and summer crush to Sam. This summer is the beginning of something different for Sam… There’s no lazing around the pool with her best friend Shelby, who just doesn’t seem to understand why Sam works so much and has no interest in their usual summer activities. And Sam, usually reserved and shy, is finding her niche and her previously small social circle is expanding. This summer, she’s breaking rules, keeping secrets, and learning, little by little, that a summer of writing obituaries might just teach her how to live.
I easily identified with the main character of Famous Last Words, Sam. She’s a hard worker, rarely gets into trouble, is protective of her much wilder and social best friend, Shelby, and is generally shy and awkward in the situations Shelby thrives in. When Sam finds something that both challenges and suits her – writing for the Herald Tribune – she flourishes. I cringed when Sam embarrassed herself, got herself reprimanded, or something so obvious to the reader went right over her head (especially in the romance department!), but that also means I couldn’t help but cheer for her when she was congratulated, loved, and finally, finally realized that everything she needed (romantically and otherwise) was right there for her to grab on to.
I highly recommend this sophomore offering from Jennifer Salvato Doktorski. I’m kicking myself for overlooking her first novel, How My Summer Went Up in Flames, which I will definitely be reading. Laugh-out-loud funny, briskly paced, and filled with memorable and quirky characters, Famous Last Words is fantastic pleasure read.
Henry Holt & Co, July 2013, Hardcover, ISBN:9780805093674, 288 pgs.