Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson

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Hot Key Books, 2013. ISBN 9781471402029. Reprint.
(Age: 13+) Recommended. Theatre. Hotels. New York. Scarlett Martin's family owns the Hopewell Hotel, in the heart of New York. Things aren't going too well for the Martin family, after the crushing medical bills that came in when Marlene, the youngest in the family, got cancer. On her 15th birthday, Scarlett is given the care of one of the suites in the hotel, the Empire Suite, and with it comes Mrs Amberson, a rich world traveller, who begins to change her world. She also meets Eric, a gorgeous actor colleague of her brother, Spencer, when they get together to do a version of Hamlet. Scarlett is carried along with Mrs Amberson's vision of a daring Hamlet, and acting as her aide learns much about life and the theatre.
This is a feel good book, with lots of humour and well written witticisms that kept me smiling through the trials of the Martin family as they desperately try to maintain their individuality while helping out with the family's finances. It was refreshing to read about a family, each member with different strengths and flaws, and with sibling rivalry and a realistic take on the coddling of Marlene, the sibling who had cancer. Told from the point of view of Scarlett the reader is drawn into the family dynamics as she describes life in a hotel and the decisions and sacrifices that each person has to make. Each sibling's character is very well drawn, from Lola who has a very rich, but dull boyfriend, to Spencer who gives her a hard time about him, to Marlene who is not expected to help with chores. Scarlett herself is a very mature 15 year old and her crush on Eric, an older boy, is brilliantly done. Mrs Amberson is an enigmatic character and what makes her tick tantalises the reader.
The setting of the Hopewell Hotel and New York City is very appealing as is the theatre production that Scarlett finds herself involved in. Readers who like to learn about how plays are produced will be thrilled with this story, but it is the humour and wonderful characterisation that will keep readers enthralled in this story.
Pat Pledger