Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson

Suite Scarlett
Maureen Johnson

This is a review for the audiobook of Suite Scarlett provided by Brilliance Audio in the goodie bags at the Book Blogger Convention
The Premise: The Martin family has owned and run the Hopewell, a small, struggling boutique hotel in the Upper East Side since the late 1920s.  The Spencer siblings Scarlett (15), Lola (18), Spencer (19), and Marlene (11), all have their roles in keeping the hotel running, and on her 15th Birthday, Scarlett inherits the Empire Suite and it’s eccentric guest, Amy Amberson.  Mrs. Amberson is a C-list starlet with a penchant for mischievousness and drama, and soon Scarlett’s summer is made very busy by Mrs. Amberson’s schemes. In the meantime, Scarlett’s brother, a struggling actor, has been given a deadline by their parents to find a job or go to culinary school, and he needs Scarlett’s help. Top this all off with a prospective romance and complex sibling dynamics, and you have Scarlett Martin’s crazy summer vacation.

My Thoughts: Things just seem to happen around Scarlett. She doesn’t go looking for trouble, but because of the impetuous plans of people around her (or just pure luck), Scarlett keeps finding herself involved in quirky capers. First there’s Mrs. Amberson. A woman with perhaps too much time on her hands, Mrs Amberson loves a project,  and just sweeps Scarlett into her vortex, ignoring any protests that Scarlett makes. Then there is Spencer. Spencer is Scarlett’s older brother, but he often relies on Scarlett’s ideas to creativity solve problems.  His current one is trying to avoid going to culinary school so he can fulfill his dream of being an actor. Spencer is a very good physical actor with excellent comedic timing, but he just can’t get a job except for a non-paying gig in a parking garage in a student production of Hamlet. Somehow he and Scarlett have to spin this to the Martin parents.  Between these two, Scarlett is very busy, and the charming story is propelled along.

While the story at it’s surface is about Scarlett’s job at the hotel and trying to help her brother fulfill his dream of being an actor instead of being forced into culinary school, it really feels like the book is about the Martin siblings. It’s obvious from the very beginning that Scarlett and her brother Spencer are very close – they hang out together and have a comfortable banter that you only get with prolonged exposure. Lola and Marlene are paired off in a similar way, but have a different dynamic – Lola is the one who has the most patience in the face of Marlene’s brattiness and takes Marlene to all Marlene’s functions. The dynamic between Lola and Spencer, and Marlene, Spencer, and Scarlett, is less clear cut. There’s the usual teasing, bartering, sharing and arguing among siblings, but there’s some history and underlying issues that sometimes surface. That they are all growing up together and things are not always simple and expected between them was something I really liked. I thought it was an accurate portrayal of siblinghood.

The best example of this sibling dynamics is Spencer’s reaction to his sister’s love interests. Spencer never seems to approve of Lola’s boyfriend – a very rich kid who has a chauffeured car, a yacht, and needs Lola to help him with everything. Then when Spencer introduces Eric, a fellow actor in the young college troupe, and he and Scarlett show signs of interest in one another, Spencer reacts oddly. The fallout between siblings because of the romances and the messiness of the romances themselves was well written and they felt real to me. Too often young adult stories simplify the process of liking someone and then being with them. In this book, romantic relationships are as complex and occasionally baffling as real life. As a older (ahem, I mean not a teen myself) reader I admit being concerned about the age difference between Scarlett and Eric (I think he’s 18 or 19 and she’s just turned 15 – when you’re a teen those years count), but I liked the way that their relationship was handled.

Now a couple of comments about the audiobook. I thought that the voice actor did an excellent job with the reading, but I preferred her voice when reading the dialog of female characters over males. There’s a very obvious difference between characters voices and I particularly liked the voice she used as Mrs. Amberson (it has a clear, decisive quality) and Lola (which was quieter and sounded nurturing), but the teen boys – Eric and Spencer sounded strange. Eric is supposed to have a North Carolina accent and I’m still not sure that what I heard was quite it. Spencer sounded very goofy, and I think I would have imagined his voice to be less exuberant and to have a softer wit.

This series continues with Scarlett Fever.

Overall: A charming young adult novel. It maintains an easy balance between quirkiness and moments of depth – particularly in the sibling dynamics and romantic relationships. Listening to this audiobook was the most pleasant 2 weeks I’ve ever had commuting.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository (PB)
Buy the Audiobook

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers – 7 (Very Good)
Angieville – positive review
Tempting Persephone – positive review

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5 thoughts on “Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson

  1. Aw, I’m glad you enjoyed this one. I agree. The Martin family made it for me. Particularly the siblings. Each one of them entertained me and felt, as you said, real. I’ve got the sequel here and I really need to get on it.

    • I’d like to know what happens between Lola and number 96 in the next book.

      Also Ana says that there’s another (15 year old) guy in the next one (this was her dangling carrot). I wasn’t particularly into Eric – I was expecting him to turn out to be a jerk. The author made him more nuanced than that – but still… the age diff bugged me.

    • Yep, I think Ana read it based on Angie’s recommendation. 😀 And she (Ana from the Book Smugglers) says I need to read book 2 now.

      She writes some entertaining posts! Ah, branding. A topic loaded with possible landmines. I’m not anti-branding, but I think just being yourself counts as branding, so my version of it is prob different then the evil one that the lady who kept taking the microphone ascribes to.

  2. Pingback: Sorry local tweens, I took all your good library loot! « Lusty Reader

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