Monday, November 08, 2010

Maureen Johnson,
       Suite Scarlett, 2008
       Scarlett Fever, 2010.

Why do teenagers and tweens read Twilight crap and other such things when they could read well-written, clever, and entertaining YA novels like Johnson’s? Who needs to worry about vampires and werewolves when one can wonder who will capture Scarlett’s heart? (Note no actual Twilight comparisons should be considered: the books referred to in this blog entry are good, and worth reading. And lack vampires. Deo gratias on both counts!)

Set in a New York that’s neither tourist-y (for the most part) nor exploited for fear or kitsch, Johnson’s stories of Scarlett Martin and her family are rollicking, funny, and engaging. Scarlett’s family runs the no-longer top-notch Hopewell hotel in Manhattan. As the first novel starts, Scarlett is, in the family tradition, given one of the Hopewell’s suites to care for; while it should have been more a formality than real work, the arrival of the mysterious and peculiar Mrs. Amberson changes Scarlett’s plans for how she was to spend that summer. Meanwhile, her brother Spencer is trying to make it as an actor, and the production of Hamlet in which he lands the role of Rosencrantz (or Guildenstern—I can't actually remember if it's specified, and the two roles are treated fairly interchangeably when the play takes the fore) is lacking a production space. Add the challenge of the younger sister, Marlene, who only likes the older sister Lola (who is herself in a confusing romantic space with her rich boyfriend). Toss together with the complications of Eric, the Guildenstern (or Rosencrantz), who may or may not have a thing for Scarlett, and you’ve got a recipe for mayhem, silliness, comedic timing, pratfalls, Shakespearean revenge subplots, and general fun that’s eminently enjoyable. The second novel follows in the series: new romantic interests, new familial complications, new wackiness-es with Mrs. Amberson (whose borrowed dog and put-upon doorman exist to provide set-pieces that Johnson handles deftly), plus school all combine to leave the reader wondering how Scarlett continues to stumble from one thing to the next.

Read. Enjoy. And for pity’s sake, if you see a young woman (or man) reading misogynistic Twilight crap, give her these instead: it’s more worth her time to have a plausible young woman who’s simultaneously strong and confused by life as a role model than simpering simpletons she’ll find in other books.

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