Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson
Author: Maureen Johnson
Reader: Jeannie Stith
Short Review: A disappointing audiobook that’s hard to listen to.
Long Review: I expected to enjoy this book, because I love young adult novels, I love the theater and theater people, I love art deco design, and I love New York City.
I was annoyed by Jeannie Stith’s reading from the outset. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I prefer deeper voices, and I understand that not everyone does. But I also know a lot of teenage girls. I used to be a teenage girl. Teenage girls don’t automatically talk with high, breathy voices at all times–no matter what MTV or Disney says. Even if they did, an experienced actor and audiobook narrator should know how hard it is to listen to shrill, piercing reading for hours at a time. Stith’s delivery is perpetually over-done and pitched too high. It never lets the listener relax into the story, not for a moment. Stith sticks to that delivery style, no matter the subject matter, and it feels flippant and dismissive in the more serious sections of the novel.
The book itself has some problems as well, but I think Johnson started with a good concept. I think Scarlett’s family and their residence and work in a historic New York hotel are a great jumping off point for a novel. I think the madcap plot and pacing were engaging, and it reminded me of classic French farces. I think Spencer could be an interesting character in the series if Johnson worked on his character development a bit more. But his obsession with his sisters’ romantic lives is unrealistic and/or disturbing, depending on how you look at it. The girls in the story drove me mad because of how undeveloped their characterizations were and because of how Johnson relied on some nastier steroptypes about girls to frame and sketch them. Scarlett’s older sister cares far too much about appearances and is apparently dating a boy because he has money, and her younger sister is portrayed as a brat who uses her bout with cancer as an excuse to railroad her entire family and gets away with it. And Scarlett–Scarlett is a doormat.
I love a strong female lead, and Scarlet just isn’t one. She takes manipulative, borderline-abusive treatment from all and sundry and keeps on going without defending herself. Scarlett needs to grow a spine, and quickly, for the sake of the story and for the sake of Johnson’s readers. Her brother, her beau, her boss, and her younger sister all constantly push her around, manipulate her, and expect her to bow and scrape, and she does. I didn’t want to read stories about girls like that when I was a girl, and I don’t really want my nieces to read stories like that now. I’ll stick with the March girls, thank you very much.