Scarlett by Cathy Cassidy
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Family
Published by: Puffin
Maddie and I have wanted to start reading more Middle Grade recently, so we decided to start with some of our favourite books from when we were tweens! Cathy Cassidy was a complete staple in my reading life when I was 11-14. I loved her(!) and Scarlett was the first of her books that I read, so I decided to start here.
Scarlett follows an angry girl who is misunderstood. She’s been booted from one school to the next and lives with her single mother who’s a little tired of Scarlett’s antics, so she sends her to live with her dad. But Scarlett’s dad started a new family…in Ireland.
First of all, the setting is wonderful. You really get a sense of the small town with the open fields and in-the-middle-of-nowhere cottages. In the new place where no one knows her name, Scarlett has the opportunity to start again, but she doesn’t want to. She’s dealing with a lot of pent up anger from when her dad first left and she isn’t exactly happy to be living with his new pregnant wife, and her new step-sister is so cute it’s annoying.
Scarlett really deals with family issues. It’s tense and sometimes uncomfortable, but the book does a good job of trying to subvert the horrible step-mother cliche. It goes in places hat you don’t expect and really builds when it comes to character development. When I first read it I don’t think I appreciated the message that ‘it’s okay to be angry. You just have to know how to deal with it,’ but that came across in my re-read overwhelmingly so. I think a lot of kids that go through similar things to Scarlett feel the same way, and this must be such a reassuring read for them. To be able to identify with a character whose emotions match yours is so important.
But it’s not all positives. This time I also realised the plainly evident Manic Pixie Dream Boy trope, and that almost ruined the whole thing. It’s crazy that Cathy Cassidy can so capture a real emotion but then inject the story with some magical realism and events where you really have to suspend your disbelief. A boy that turns up on horseback who’s handsome and mysterious is the closest you’ll get to Prince Charming propaganda in contemporary fiction. The boy did have a bit of his own story, which is quite bittersweet really, but CC really does have a thing for boys with long lashes and floppy fringes, and these boys are just not realistic at all in comparison to the girls.
It’s definitely opened my eyes, re-reading by favourite books from when I was a tween, because I’m able to highlight all the things I’ve found I don’t like in YA in MG. The morals are still great, but the relationships (especially for characters that are 12-13) seem just too far fetched and Romantic.