Famous Last Words
(2014), a young adult paranormal mystery novel by Katie Alender, tells the story of a young girl with a ghost in her house and a best friend who is obsessed with a notorious serial killer stalking Los Angeles. Receiving generally positive critical reviews upon publication, the book won the 2017 Missouri Truman Readers Award. Before becoming a writer, Alender worked in television, producing dog shows for popular channels such as Animal Planet. She is the author of numerous young adult mystery stories and paranormal novels.
Willa lives in Los Angeles with her mother and her new husband, Jonathan, a popular director. She lived in Connecticut until her father died two years ago. Still, not over his death, Willa is angry that her mother has moved on so quickly. She doesn’t feel that she has anyone to talk to about her feelings, although she tries her best to have a relationship with Jonathan.
At school, Willa is known as the girl who lives in a murder victim’s house. Rumor has it that someone murdered a promising, beautiful young actress in Willa’s home back in the 1930s. Her killer has never been identified, but it’s likely that it was a serial murderer. Willa is unsure how she feels about the house, but at least it makes her popular at school.
Someone, however, doesn’t want Willa settling into her new life. She sees strange things around the house; at first, she thinks she’s going crazy. One day, she sees a corpse in the backyard swimming pool, but when she looks closer, it’s gone. She sees messages written on the walls that disappear when she tries to show anyone else. She assumes one of two things—someone is messing with her, or she’s going crazy.
Willa distracts herself from her problems with her friends at school, Wyatt and Marnie. Wyatt is obsessed with serial killers and unsolved crimes. Marnie, superficial and shallow, is always looking for attention. However, she is the first person who befriends Willa at school, and Willa can’t imagine life there without her. Jonathan’s assistant, Reed, is also important to Willa. He’s young, charming, and always there when she needs him. Still, she can’t bring herself to talk about her father or these strange sensations she’s experiencing at home.
In the meantime, news breaks all over Hollywood that there is a serial killer on the rampage. He is targeting young women and killing them in the same dramatic ways that they die in movies. Everyone is rightfully terrified and Willa worries that her family will be next. Meanwhile, the ghostly disturbances only get worse, and Willa fears that the ghost is trying to send her a warning.
Wyatt is ecstatic when he finds out about the serial killer; he has found his latest obsession. He and Willa work together to find out everything they can about the victims and the movies the killer bases his murders on. Willa decides she should consult a psychic about what is going on in her home. She wonders, if the ghost isn’t sending her a warning, perhaps it’s trying to tell her who the murderer is.
Everything gets worse for Willa when she starts experiencing intense visions. For a few seconds, she becomes the next victim, and she sees the girls in their dying moments. Naturally, Willa is terrified, but she knows she must confront these visions if she has any hope of catching the serial killer. Marnie, meanwhile, suspects that Willa is making everything up for attention, and their friendship deteriorates.
Willa and Wyatt stop at nothing to investigate the murders. Eventually, they work out that the ghost is of a girl called Paige. She was murdered recently by the serial killer. For a moment, Wyatt is disappointed, because he hoped the ghost was the dead actress from many years ago. However, quickly realizing that they are on the verge of solving an extraordinary crime, he encourages Willa to follow this new lead.
Thanks to Paige, Willa and Wyatt work out that the victims are all connected to Jonathan and his movies. Willa is horrified to think that her stepfather is the serial killer. Wyatt, on the other hand, thinks that it’s not that simple. He suspects that someone else is responsible for the murders. As it turns out, Wyatt is right.
Reed is the serial killer terrorizing Hollywood. Willa is his next target, and he kidnaps her. If she doesn’t escape his clutches, she’ll be the next victim. What is worse is that Willa knows what to expect because of Paige’s ghost. Reed makes his victims recite lines from famous movies with him before they die. Once Reed reveals the movie, the victims know how they’re going to die.
Before Reed kills Willa, Paige intervenes, saving Willa. Paige is at peace now and can move on. Willa is rescued and the police arrest Reed. Wyatt doesn’t think he’ll ever get over being partly-responsible for catching a serial killer.