Books 14 & 15: Suite Scarlett & Scarlett Fever

Book Titles: Suite Scarlett & Scarlett Fever
Author: Maureen Johnson
Published: 2008 & 2010
Pages: 353 & 332
Category: fiction: young adult

Maureen Johnson is another of my favourite authors of Young Adult fiction. Her writing style is irreverent, eccentric, and engaging – much like her personality on Twitter (which is more irreverent, and even more eccentric). In fact, Maureen Johnson was recently awarded a Mashable Open Web Award for “Most Interesting Twitter User to Follow” which she describes on her website as “both awesome and deeply sad”.

Maureen Johnson is one of several YA authors who seem to have an almost-constant connection to their readership. Like John Green, who video blogs several times weekly, Maureen Johnson appears to be on Twitter constantly – treating her followers as pets, and interacting with them, whether answering questions (usually four daily) or assigning challenges. I don’t begin to understand how this contact must inevitably affect how she does her work, or when and how she writes, but at least for us, it allows us a glimpse into the life of an author who’s work we adore.  Her presence makes the dream of writing seem all that much more possible, all that much more reachable.

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I had actually read Suite Scarlett when it was first released, but when I ordered the sequel, Scarlett Fever, I wanted to read the first book again to be able to better appreciate the continuation of the story. I do this quite a bit actually, which is why long series take me so much longer to finish – I keep wanting to be able to get as much out of a first reading as possible, and knowing the previous books is quite important to me in that regard.

Suite Scarlett is a very enjoyable book – both times I read it I really loved it. Maureen Johnson has a style of writing that is all at once nerdy, and accessible. It’s almost like she’s writing about how I wish high school could have been, with everything more vibrant, eccentric, and possible than it was for me.  It’s the best and most vibrant parts of a period of time usually filled entirely with books, hallways, and teenage drama. Did I mention the nerdiness?

You’ve never told me about your love life, Scarlette. You’re a very pretty girl. You must have a boy shacked up somewhere for your personal delights. I’d bet it’s a booky one, with overtones of Harry Potter and a lot of black T-shirts. (SS pg 112)

Another aspect of this book I found very enjoyable is the setting. Suite Scarlett takes place in New York City, but not the NYC of Gossip Girl and prep schools, rich kids, and soap opera-like lives. Scarlett’s family is of modest income and works to keep everything in the house running smoothly, but at the same time they are anything but placid suburbanites.

Not that Scarlett felt like she could have lasted very long in the suburbs. She’d spent two weeks with her grandparents in Florida once, and once the initial shock of all the sun and the proximity to Disney World and manatees wore off, the fact that there was nowhere to walk to except some fast-food seafood place and a pet supply store about a quarter of a mile away got a little old. (SS pg 245)

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It was a great idea to re-read Suite Scarlett before beginning Scarlett Fever, doing so allowed me to jump right into the continuation with enthusiasm and without confusion.  Scarlett Fever was another truly enjoyable book. The shenanigans are bigger, the tone shifting from a summer of fun to the trials and tribulations of the school year.

I also really appreciated the focus on the storyline of Scarlett’s older sister, Lola, who, having graduated from high school, took a year off to work, both at the family’s hotel, and at a string of demoralizing retail positions. Lola struggles with a lot of the same emotions I’m experiencing right now, although in my case it’s the gap between Undergrad and Grad School that is causing my dismay, as my friends and schoolmates go on to bigger things in new cities, and I wait & work patiently to have the cash to attend school again.

And you know what? She’s not fine with it. Seeing her friends go off to school or off to something new and interesting and cool? And you’re still at home? It sucks. I know. (SF pg 70)

Scarlett, though a few years behind Lola, is thinking similar thoughts, she’s worried about high school classes, choosing a university, her family’s money troubles; all this is on her mind as a 16 year old – it’s on a lot of 16 year olds’ minds.

[Scarlett] slammed the computer shut and faced the silence. And in the silence, a question came. Another creeping question. The question the Biggses had put there: What was she going to do with her life? (SF pg 134)

Big questions. Big questions that don’t go away any time soon. Especially for those of us who never had a clear, defining goal – who are not becoming doctors, are not becoming engineers, lives a work in progress, and we don’t yet know the design of the finished product.

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Maureen Johnson can be found on Twitter here; Youtube here; and generally online here.

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