Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson has family values. Rather, it values family: The Hopewell has been passed down through the Martin family for generations. The current owners are struggling to keep it going, and their children readily pitch in to help. Well, "readily" is relative - no pun intended. There's Spencer, the oldest at nineteen, an actor skilled at comedy and pratfalls; Lola, a recent high school graduate whose rich boyfriend can give her everything she wants - except that which matters most; Scarlett, the Suite's sweet protagonist; and Marlene, the youngest, who has no problem saying what she likes and what she doesn't. On his or her fifteenth birthday, each Martin gets a suite to care for. The book begins with Scarlett turning fifteen, getting assigned the Empire Suite, and finding out just how tight things are getting in the hotel. "We'll get by," her father says. "We always do."
And they do. I really enjoyed the family dynamic in this book. Spencer and Scarlett are close, as are Marlene and Lola. They all get along, but Scarlett's bond with her brother is stronger than that with either of her sisters. Thus, a large part of Scarlett's story also belongs to Spencer. He put a culinary scholarship on hold to pursue his acting, and his parents gave him a year to become a working actor or buckle down for school. With that year almost up, Spencer is anxious for something to come his way that pays him (to make his parents happy) and challenges him (to make him happy), so he's thrilled to when he gets the opportunity to be in a production of Hamlet. Spencer has such a good heart. You'll want him to succeed, and you'll wish he was your older brother too.
Meanwhile, while all of Scarlett's friends are off having summer adventures, Scarlett works at home. The Empire Suite is occupied by an aging actress named Mrs. Amberson who has money to spare and opinions to share. This woman is a true character. You never know what she's going to do next. Instead of bossing her new assistant around with barking commands and snapping fingers, she becomes an odd sort of confidante for the girl, and her eccentric ways become endearing.
Before long, Scarlett finds her summer schedule pretty full. In addition to dealing with Mrs. Amberson's antics and helping out with Spencer's show, she's also crushing on Spencer's scene partner Eric. She tries to re-connect with each of her sisters. Marlene's coddled for a reason - something I won't reveal here - and sophisticated Lola's apparent happiness may be more of an act than her family knows.
Maureen Johnson's sixth novel - and Scholastic debut - is not to be missed. Johnson's trademark wit is here ("Before, liking Eric was like a mirror - it was just a shiny thing, and it only went one way") as is her ability to capture simple truths. There are many truths to be told here about families, first loves, careers, living in New York City, and simply growing up. Scarlett's story continues in Scarlett Fever.
It's refreshing to read a story with a well-adjusted leading character who actually acts her age and likes her family. Watching Scarlett takes in everything around her is a real treat. She's content to be in the middle of her family, in the middle of her teen years, but she's also realizing how many wonderful possibilities are out there for her and for the ones she loves. You know that whatever she does now or when she grows up, she'll do it well.
Check into the Hopewell today. I hope - I know - you'll enjoy your stay.
Read the first chapter of Suite Scarlett now.
Thanks to KT Literary for the link and the compliment.
Author Spotlight: To read my reviews of all of Maureen's novels, please step right this way.
Author Interview: To discover Maureen's thoughts on book covers, jellyfish, and more, please read this interview.
Roundtable: The readergirlz book group discusses Suite Scarlett and Scarlett Fever.