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Once in a Lifetime
In 1984, punk is rampant. Andy Warhol rules. And 20-year-old art student Jessica is sick of all the excitement going on without her. Hungry for the life she’s convinced is just beyond her fingertips, she sets her sights on an avant-garde study abroad program in London she can’t afford. Meanwhile, hometown boyfriend Drew wants to see other people if he’s not exciting enough to keep her stateside. Jess and her buddies rent a beat-up apartment, trolling new wave clubs and waitressing double shifts in New Hope, PA, a cool and artsy restaurant town on the river, to scrounge-up tuition money. Then Jess meets Whit, a steamy daredevil guitarist who crawls through her window and makes her head spin like a record. The girls deal with cheating waiters, mystics, a military drag queen buddy, a Svengali bouncer, and the specter of AIDS. Before long, Jess has to decide if the men in her life will leave her as damaged as her cracked-glass mosaic art projects—and whether they’ll stand in the way of her dream semester in New Wave London.
Mattaboni’s debut is the story of one epic summer in 1984, when Philadelphia artist, server, and punk-rock striver Jess bunks up with her closest friends Trina, Audrey, and Kimmer in New Hope, where just about anything goes. The girls are wholly committed to the punk life and each other while facing the obstacles of young adults living on their own–a less than respectable apartment, summer jobs, love triangles, and personal crises. Even though the friends face some heady issues, Mattaboni opts for keeping the subject matter mostly lighthearted, circling around the ups and downs of relationships amid subtle themes of self-discovery, all tied to an era-specific punk, new wave, and post-punk soundtrack.

Mattaboni masters the complications and daily nuances of female friendship while emphasizing the women’s dreams and opportunities in a vibrant cultural moment, especially Jess’s desire to go to London and create art. Music and art rule Jess’s life. As narrator, she relishes “deep plucks of Tina Weymouth’s bass line” and how the “screen-printed lines” of a Joy Division T-shirt seem to “undulate like a mountain range” across a man’s chest. She takes a waitressing job at Capresi’s Continental Restaurant, and Kimmer joins her there for a string of adventures, while roommates Trina and Audrey work in the more upscale eatery La Chambre Rose, where a jealous co-worker and a love triangle threaten their friendship–and Jess gets caught in a love triangle of her own when she falls for an appealing guitarist while on break from longtime boyfriend.

Jess’s love for art spills forth onto her apartment walls and colors the background of her everyday experiences. Readers fascinated by the era and its culture will enjoy the throwback elements, but the quirky humor, the emphasis on art and women’s relationships, and the story’s burning questions –will these friendships survive the summer?–offer much more than that.

Takeaway: A woman’s coming-of-age summer in the post-punk 1980’s, with close friends and hard decisions.

Great for fans of: Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Malibu Rising, Suzanne Kamata’s Screaming Divas.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A


If The Breakfast Club and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants had a love child it would be this book!! A coming of age tale set in 1984 it follows 20 year old Jess and her 3 college roommates/best friends as they leave their university in Pittsburgh to live and work in New Hope, PA for the summer...All in all I enjoyed every moment of this book and highly recommend it to anyone who may be looking for a nostalgic trip down memory lane with fresh and fun characters. This book is full of fun, life lessons, heart, and more 80’s music and pop culture references than “I Love the 80’s”. If you’re looking for a good solid stand alone read with tons of heart then pick this book up, try the Neapolitan Cheesecake, and enjoy the ride.

Kirkus Reviews

Mattaboni’s prose is rich with sharp dialogue, musical references, and painterly details: “I’m a half-formed mosaic, dancing around in a world full of indecision and New Wave anarchy and the mystery terror of AIDS,” says Jess, at one point ... the author has a talent for enlivening even minor characters with memorable personalities, and she manages to capture the very real magic of small bohemian towns. Overall, it’s as much a nostalgia trip as it is a bildungsroman, but the reader won’t have to have personally lived through the ’80s to appreciate this ebullient and engaging story of youthful longing and independence.

An enjoyable, starry-eyed coming-of-age tale.

Suzanne Mattaboni Captures the Artistic Wave and Intrigue of the ’80s in her D

Hailing from Long Island, New York, Suzanne Mattaboni is a Pushcart Prize-nominated creative writer, essayist, podcaster, corporate consultant, and the author of the debut novel “Once In A Lifetime.” A great summer read, the book is coming-of-age women’s fiction set in the 1980s with a feminist bend. It follows a determined young artist and her close-knit group of college roommates as they search for success, love, and the best experiences the emerging “new wave” scene has to offer.

Suzanne Mattaboni has always had a knack for narrative, going back to days of reporting on community service projects for New York’s Newsday. However, the act of making a good living as a corporate writer got in the way of her goals as an aspiring novelist. She eventually took the route of a corporate communications consultant, placing clients in prominent media like Bloomberg News, the New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. She’s returned to fiction writing after a successful, ongoing  corporate run. She also recently joined the ranks of the Newsweek Expert Forum, where she’ll be contributing pieces about arts and culture. 

An astute storyteller with a literary flair, Suzanne Mattaboni’s debut is a worthy addition to her growing body of work. Once in a Lifetime captures the vibe of David Byrne’s new wave anthem of the same name, where an exasperated narrator is inspired to throw up their arms in confusion, wondering just what the hell landed them in this bewildering, barely recognizable place in their lives. 

Once in a Lifetime is a fun, irreverent, yet intelligent read, achingly full of the things young people yearn for when it’s time to launch themselves into the adult world. It shows us a talented, driven heroine who wants to break free of her sheltered former life, develop her creative spirit, and “get over” being naive. It also shows how women in this confusing but trailblazing era were finally set loose to follow their dreams, while simultaneously threatening a generation of men who weren’t necessarily ready for them.

In the narrative, college junior (and reluctant waitress) Jessica Addentro pines for an exciting life of artsy fame and fortune as what she calls a “multimedia art superstar.” It’s a world she’s convinced is just beyond her fingertips, or at least beyond the college dorms she’s been limited to so far. Just as 20-year-old Jessica sets her sights on an avant-garde study abroad program at a London art school she can’t afford, her long-time boyfriend dumps her rather than play second fiddle to her ambitions. 

Jessica’s quest unfolds against a vividly portrayed background of 1980’s new wave music and pop art in New Hope, Pennsylvania, a progressively artsy Philadelphia suburb full of river view restaurants, alternative music haunts, and galleries. Klutzy Jessica has to figure out how to earn enough tips as a waitress to subsidize the cost of that pricey London art school–that is, without cracking her skull on the uneven slate floors of Capresi’s Continental Restaurant, the only establishment in town that would hire her. 

We follow this headstrong protagonist and her friends as they try to balance their love lives and budding careers in an era when women were finally told they could “have it all.” The restaurant and its eccentric but lovable crew become the girls’ manic if dysfunctional new home for the summer. They deal with everything from Jess’s fling with a hot daredevil guitarist, to drag shows, punk concerts, revenge sex, cheating waiters, and a Jeep that lands in the river on a dare.  

Mattaboni’s previous short-form work has appeared in anthologies including the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, the ‘80s-themed Pizza Parties and PoltergeistLittle Demon DigestWhat’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Relationship Like This?, and The Running Wild Anthology of Stories. Her short pieces are an eclectic mix of relationship-oriented women’s fiction, horror stories, and young adult tales. Her fiction has been short-listed for awards in addition to the Pushcart, including in competitions with Writer’s Digest, New Millennium literary magazine, and Gotham Writers. She’s also a former first-place winner of Seventeen Magazine’s Art and Fiction Contest. But right now, she’s devoted to capturing the zeitgeist of the totally awesome decade where Once in a Lifetime lives.

“The ‘80s was an unbelievable time to come into your own,” Mattaboni says. “The music and design aesthetic of the era defined who you were. It dictated what friends you had, what clothes you wore, what clubs you went to. We hunted for music, as if a rare extended-play version of your favorite underground synth-pop song or a cool pair of punked-out boots was a trophy. Like it was your job to discover new songs. There was a haughtiness to it, even, as if we were all amateur A&R people.

In the coming years, Mattaboni is looking to continue the narrative for artsy protagonist Jessica on her rollercoaster journey to establish herself as an artist in late 1980’s Manhattan. “The city had a certain duality to it at that time. It was exciting as all-get-out, with landmark clubs like the Limelight and the Palladium creating an unforgettable scene, yet with the grittiness and danger of Times Square around the corner, back in the days before gentrification,” Mattaboni says. “I’d like to see Jessica tackle that world.”

But for the moment, she’d like to see Once in a Lifetime take off, playing on the resurgence of ‘80s-based entertainment ranging from Netflix’s “Stranger Things” to YA books like Eleanor & Park and Like A Love Story. And let’s not forget David Byrne’s American Utopia on Broadway, which dredged-up the excitement of the songs of that decade. This novel strives for something similar, while paying tribute to women of that era.