Maureen Johnson‘s novel Suite Scarlett (2008) (find it on Bookshop) focuses on Scarlett Martin and her family who live in the Hopewell Hotel in the heart of New York City*. That might sound like a dream come true but just ask Scarlett about her fifteenth birthday and it’s easy to see the sometimes harsh realities that owning and running a hotel can really entail.
The Hopewell hotel has been around since 1929 and has belonged to the Hopewell family for just as long. While the hotel can’t compete with some of its ritzier neighbors in terms of luxuries on offer, the Hopewell does have some unique benefits including custom furnishings by a prestigious (fictional) Jazz Age designer, connections to the history of the city and its ever-glamorous theater life. In order to lower maintenance costs for the hotel, the Martins have come up with a unique tradition. On their fifteenth birthday every child receives a hotel suite thereby also inheriting the housekeeping duties and guest services connected to said suite.
Scarlett is pretty sure such duties will not do much to alleviate the dullness of her summer vacation since the Hopewell is always chronically under-booked. Unlike Scarlett, her siblings have a lot to manage this summer: Eighteen-year-old Lola is busy juggling family obligations, a job she loves, and a high maintenance boyfriend with an equally high balance in his bank account; eleven-year-old Marlene, the youngest Martin, does not share Scarlett’s summer doldrums since her survivor’s club keep her social calendar plenty full (have you been on a morning TV show yet?); meanwhile nineteen-year-old Spencer, a talented actor with a fondness for physical comedy is faced with an ultimatum that could end his acting career before it’s even started.
Everything changes when the larger-than-life Mrs. Amberson checks into the Empire Suite (Scarlett’s suite) and takes her on an assistant in everything from running errands to getting reacquainted with the City and writing the biography of her life. Already swept up in Mrs. Amberson’s whirlwind, Scarlett also finds herself swept off her feet when she meets Eric the gorgeous fellow actor in a production of Hamlet that might just save Spencer’s career–if the show ever opens.
Suite Scarlett holds a lot of appeal for a variety of readers. Being a book by Maureen Johnson it is, of course, very funny. It also has many tidbits about New York that will interest anyone who has a special place for that big apple in their hearts. Most of all, this book has a lot of appeal for theater lovers. Before becoming a published novelist Johnson worked as a dramaturg in the theater world (a dramaturg basically being the person who makes sure every single aspect of a show runs smoothly while directors and other theater types focus less on the big picture). Johnson brings all of that knowledge to this book to really bring the theatrical world that Spencer and, by extension, Scarlett come to inhabit as the plot progresses.
While this story has a bit of romance and humor and excitement, it is really a novel about family, specifically siblings. Each of the Martin children are vibrantly described on the page. Spencer in particular is a character that readers will love to love. In fact, the only problem with Suite Scarlett is that with such an awesome brother as Spencer, Scarlett’s love interest Eric pales by comparison. All the same, this book has something for everyone and is sure to leave readers with a smile on their face.
*If you want to see New York City the way Scarlett lives it, you can check out Johnson’s interactive map of Scarlett’s New York.
Possible Pairings: Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, City Love by Susane Colasanti, Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Year My Sister Got Lucky by Aimee Friedman, King of the Screwups by K. L. Going, Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe, Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, New York City: A Short History by George J. Lankevich, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, The Statistical Probability of True Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, Drama by Raina Telgemeier