Today, we're reviewing Jennifer Doktorski's Famous Last Words for our YA Contemporary Thursday. We really enjoyed her debut, How My Summer Went Up in Flames, and we knew we'd enjoy this one!
Our Contemporary Thursday series is where we review YA contemporary books which have come out recently. While the majority of our books will be upcoming releases, we may occasionally also review books that we're only recently discovering!
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published July 2nd 2013 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Format read: Hardcover (owned)
Two-second recap: Jennifer Doktorski's sophomore novel is a fun, smart summer read about pursuing your passions and learning how to focus on yourself.
Things that worked:
As usual, let's start with the bookish things!
* The writing
Famous Last Words is Jennifer Doktorski's sophomore novel, and it's extremely evident by the writing. Even though I absolutely loved How My Summer Went Up in Flames, the writing in FLW is stronger, more detailed and more well-rounded.
I was especially taken with Doktorski's voice for Sam. It's a strong, teenage voice, and her personality clearly shines through in everything she thinks and says. She's smart, likable, and more or less a good role model for young girls. I loved how she gradually learned how to be comfortable in her own skins - from acknowledging her personal interests and goals, to learning the importance of being in a place where she feels positive and confident in her abilities.
* The plotting
The book moves at a perfect pace. It starts after Sam's already started her internship, which I think was a perfect decision on Doktorski's part. There's no need to explain the backstory, and we already see how much she loves what she's doing.
After establishing Sam's love for her job, Doktorski interweaves a series of personal, professional and academic obstacles which drives the action forward and keeps the reader reading. I especially loved the mayoral subplot - it added a hint of the intrigue that I think most people will expect from a journalism-centric story.
I also appreciated the realism faced by the newspaper staff over budget cuts and sending the paper out for printing - it's something that I think most readers will have read about and/or considered in real life, and it brought the perfect hint of realism to the book.
* The world building
Doktorski seems to like to set her books in Jersey, and she always brings the surroundings to life in a way that's rich and easy to imagine.
As for everything else...
* The romance
I've read a ton of YA books with romantic subplots over the last two years, and I don't think I've ever wanted two characters to get to get together, as much as I wanted Sam and AJ to get together.
Even though they don't actually spend a lot of time together during the course of the book, Doktorski has written AJ and Sam's interactions in a way that perfectly captures the feelings of uncertainty over a crush-turned-possible-relationship. The feeling of romantic possibility seemed to hang over all of their interactions and conversations.
However, what I liked the most about their relationship, was the fact that it was formed on very solid foundations. AJ and Sam spent a significant amount of time working together, and learning about each other's quirks, before making any sort of moves.
When things did start turning romantic, neither one of them lost their minds or emotions over it. They were giddy, but still kept their cool. In fact, there was actually a scene where Sam wonders if AJ might like her, but then also thinks that AJ's a big boy, and totally capable of making a move if he did. I loved her rationality in that moment.
Bottom line: I ship them. I ship them hard.
* The adult factor
If you've read any of my reviews before, you'll know that I always have an appreciation for YA books where adults take an active presence in a protagonist's life, verses just sort of hanging out on the peripheries.
Well, I'm happy to say that we have adults in abundance inFamous Last Words. From Sam's own family, to all of the reporters and editors in the newsroom, there is an incredible number of people for whom Sam is able to turn to for advice and inspiration during the course of the book.
I loved this for so many reasons. Not only does Doktorski show readers that adults aren't the adversarial figures that they're so often portrayed to be in YA books, she also shows readers that it's possible to be taken seriously by adults. And it's possible for teens to be recognized by adults for the work that they do, because hard work does pay off.
Without getting too corny about it, I loved how the relationship that Sam has with all of the adults in this book, really shows what it means to be a young adult, and what she's striving to become in the future.
* The ending - both for Sam and the newspaper
Though things don't end perfectly for Sam or the paper, I loved how realistic the endings were, and the promise/potential they show for the future.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
* Uneven characterizations, or an overabundance of snark
The one thing that slightly bothered me about Famous Last Words, was Sam's snarky reaction to certain things - e.g her attitude about hanging out with Shelby.
Sam would often think things like how she couldn't stand hanging out with Shelby, or how she would go out with Shelby just to keep the peace. While I could understand being annoyed with a friend, a lot of Sam's internal monologuing made me questionwhy Sam put up with Shelby, if she clearly found Shelby annoying the majority of the time. Isn't it better to just part ways, rather than play the martyr?
I thought Sam's complaining about Shelby seemed out-of-place with the general positive, thoughtful tone of the book, and that's why I'm docking one star.
Famous Last Words is a perfect read for the summer. It's fun and breezy, but also has significant moments of depth and beauty. This is a book that will encourage younger readers to get out of their comfort zone, and explore interests that may have seemed unreachable before.
I especially recommend this book for fans of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Suite Scarlett.