Basic plot: Scarlett Martin has turned 15, which means — since her family owns and lives in a hotel in New York City — she has just been “given” a suite to take care of. That means, however, that she automatically becomes the go-to person for whoever stays in that suite. In this case, that would be Mrs. Amberson, a former theater diva who has come back to NYC after years in Thailand. Scarlett’s life — for better or for worse — is at the mercy of Mrs. Amberson, and as a result, so is the rest of her family. Thankfully (or not) that ends up involving not only romance (for Scarlett), but a dash of revenge and deception, not to mention theatrical intrigue (involving Hamlet, of all things).
Suite Scarlett is your quintessential romantic comedy. That’s not to say it’s clichéd or boring or formulaic; quite the contrary. There are just enough twists and suspense and conflict to keep readers interested on a non-romantic level. Maureen Johnson knows how to put a reader through the paces — lots of laughs and smiles and swoons, but also curiosity about how it’s all going to turn out — from the initial dedication: “This book is dedicated to anyone who has ever played a dead body on stage or screen. It takes a big actor to lie on the ground and keep quiet. Droop on, my lifeless friends.” All the way through to the very last sentence.
The best part — aside from the laughs — are the characters. They’re so vividly drawn that you feel that you could sit in some coffee shop chatting with them about the weather. I especially liked Scarlett — just the right balance of innocence and cleverness spiced with a bit of daring — and who has me wrapped around her little finger from the get-go. But, in addition to her, I absolutely loved just about everyone else. Spencer, her 19-year-old brother, is just one of those guys you want to pack up and take home. Lola (she’s 18, just graduated and trying to figure out what to do with her life) is a bit uptight, but I could tell that she really cares about the hotel and about her family. (A side note: I really liked how family-centric this novel is.) Maureen, 11, is constantly grumpy, but with good reason. And Johnson manages to find a way to make me like her. Mrs. Amberson is a riot, and I like Eric (he’s the love interest — Johnson, among her other talents, does a good job with the chemistry between the two of them), even though he’s a bit earnest for my taste. Then again, a little bit of Southern earnestness never hurt a novel.
Just about perfect (for a YA romance, anyway).
Rated: Mild. There are instances of lying, which, while mostly harmless, may be a bit disconcerting to some readers.