It had been a while since I picked up a Maureen Johnson book. I last read 13 Little Blue Envelopes and The Name of the Star back in 2011 and so I thought it was about time to try some of her earlier young adult contemporary novels, since they were newly published in the UK. I was under the impression that they were nearer the fluffy end of contemporary – not that there’s anything wrong with that, I just usually go for either ‘really sad’ or ‘witty and really cute’ – but what I found was that I’d just been guilty of having judged a book by its cover. Suite Scarlett is one of the most enjoyable young adult contemporary novels I’ve read so far – incredibly fun, very quick-witted, with a dash of romance, but also an emotional, complicated side.
It’s finally summer! 15-year-old Scarlett Martin’s top priority is getting a job so she can actually afford to have fun with her friends this year. Well, that’s what she thought, until her family breaks the news that they’re running out of money and need her to work in their fancy Art Deco hotel, the Hopewell, over the entire summer. Scarlett’s frustrated, but knows that her family comes first, even if they can be incredibly frustrating sometimes, what with her brother’s inability to obtain a permanent acting job, her old sister’s annoying preppy boyfriend and little sister’s incessant complaining. It’s a full house and Maureen Johnson shows us that perfection isn’t all it appears to be (even though I have wondered what it must be like to run a hotel since seeing Gilmore Girls Lorelai’s beautiful inn). Scarlett is mature for her age, witty and intelligent, and is an enjoyable protagonist to spend time with. She lives up to the challenge when feisty, eccentric Mrs Amberson comes to stay, hires Scarlett as her assistant, and embarks on a mission to save both Hamlet and the Hopewell at the same time… As if that wasn’t enough to keep Scarlett busy, her brother’s colleague catches her eye, but it’s not all smooth-sailing there, either.
Suite Scarlett is a fast-paced, brilliantly written and well thought-out contemporary novel to add to your wishlist! It taught me not to judge a book by its cover – the emotional exploration of Scarlett’s relationship with her siblings was just wonderful – and I wish I didn’t have to wait for the sequel to be published in the UK…
After reading and thoroughly enjoying Suite Scarlett, I was very much looking forward to picking up Maureen Johnson’s other novels, so I went for The Key to the Golden Firebird, which is very much in the same vein as Suite Scarlett. Maureen Johnson has a brilliant way of showing just how complicated family dynamics can be. The Key to the Golden Firebird starts with describing the heart-warming, close relationship that the Gold sisters have with their father, but then he dies from a sudden heart-attack. I knew then that this was another Maureen Johnson novel that isn’t as it first appears.
May is desperate to learn to drive, but not because she wants an expensive car to show off to her friends – her mum is working all hours to pay the bills, her sister Brooks is hardly ever there, and her younger sister Palmer is going through some issues of her own. May is feeling hopeless until her neighbour Pete offers to lend a hand.
The Key to the Golden Firebird is told through the eyes of each of the sisters and you get a real glimpse onto their world – how they see their life, their relationships, the way they deal with brief, and how their personalities shine through. Although I had a particular affinity for May, as we’re introduced to her first, I ended up growing quite close to Brooks and Palmer. It wouldn’t be YA contemporary without a little bit of romance and in this charming novel we have Pete, the boy next door. We go from seeing him as the enemy – as he was when the Gold sisters were younger – to rooting for him and May, but how does it end? You’ll need to brush aside your prejudices and pick up these to brilliant young adult books to see!