Plot: Scarlett’s family owns a hotel in the heart of New York City and it is a Martin family tradition to be asigned the care of a suite on your 15th birthday. Scarlett inherits the Empire suite and with it a permanent guest named Mrs. Amberson. She doesn’t quite know what to make of the aging starlet at first but she soon gets caught up in her madcap adventures including, though not limited to, thievery, petty revenge and theater management. Before its all done, she may be able to save her family’s hotel, her brothers acting career and her love life… or it may all fall to pieces.
This is exactly the novel I was hoping for when I set out to discover Maureen Johnson’s books. It is quirky and funny with clever dialogue and a fast paced plot. I stayed up way too late on a work night to finish it. The story is really quite unique. While it deals with all the usual things – first loves, family troubles and summer jobs – Johnson sets them in the glamourous world of hotels and theater. And she really manages to bring both these worlds to vivid life: she describes all the joy, beauty and excitement but doesn’t hesitate to reveal the hardships and the siliness that we as outsiders tend to miss. It made me want to live in a hotel and date an actor who does physical comedy (it doesn’t help that I recently watched Benny & Joon which stars a gorgeous young Johnny Depp doing physical comedy).
Scarlett is a wonderful character: both insecure and clever, always managing to save the day with an unexpected (but quite reasonable) plan. Her romance with the gorgeous Eric was a pleasure to read despite (perhaps because of) its awkwardness and it took some quite unexpected twists. Meanwhile Mrs. Amberson is wonderfully infuriating, selfish and over the top; almost a caricature of the aging starlet but with some moments of true human frailty. But my favorite was Scarlett’s elder brother Spenser with his constant silliness and his clear love for his sisters. I don’t know if Johnson has any brothers or sisters in real life but the sibling relationships in her books are simply perfect… that is not to say that they are without problems. They are full of problems and disagreements as well as warmth, protectiveness and injokes. Her families feel like real families that have grown up together in hard times.
Johnson has written a sequel to this book, Scarlett Fever, which is getting added to my list. (*wobbles* I just made the mistake of looking at my list again.)