Willa and her mother have moved from Connecticut to California to live with her new stepfather, Jonathan, who is a movie director based in Los Angeles. While not excited to live in Los Angeles, Willa accepts the fact that it is the only way to move on from the death of her father. She regularly tries to contact his spirit using a method she found in an old book, but she does not receive any response. After she tries to contact her father’s spirit in her stepfather’s house, she starts seeing things that no one else can see. Her stepfather’s mansion was owned by Diana Del Mar, an actress who died in the house, and Willa assumes that the ghost of Diana is causing all of the strange occurrences that she is witnessing. At the same time, Los Angeles is being struck by the Hollywood Killer, a serial killer who kidnaps young girls and poses them in reenactments of famous movie scenes before murdering them. Willa meets a boy named Wyatt who is obsessed with the Hollywood Killer, and she believes that he is somehow connected to the case. When Willa’s friend Marnie goes missing and the paranormal activity in the house increases, Willa and Wyatt set out to get to the bottom of both mysteries.
Famous Last Words is a mixture of mystery and ghost story, Alender combines the characteristics of paranormal activity with a good old-fashioned murder mystery. Willa is a character who wants to connect with her father’s spirit and initially is afraid of the paranormal activity she appears to have unleashed upon herself, but by the end of the novel she accepts it and is less afraid of it. She is driven to solve the mystery of the Hollywood Killer, and the strange clues that she finds do not deter her from her search. Like a true mystery novel, the plot contains details that came together by the end of the novel to reveal the true identity of the murderer, while also containing elements that would only be found in Los Angeles such as private schools filled with children of rich parents and movie premiers. Teens should check out Famous Last Words if they like solving mysteries before reaching the end of the novel or if they just want to follow along on a new mystery.