A Touch of Scarlet

Emma’s life is a mess. Her boyfriend Gray broke up with her. Her roommate, Michelle, isn’t talking to her. She is lonely and isolated at her exclusive prep school. Then things get even stranger when she goes into a trancelike state and enters the world of the novel The Scarlet Letter.

In a moment of weakness, Emma kisses her roommate’s boyfriend, which causes her classmates to exclude Emma even more. Emma wants to feel brave, but instead, she’s heartsick over her breakup with Gray, worried about her estranged relationship with Michelle, and wishing her life didn’t parallel The Scarlet Letter.

When Emma finds out that Michelle is gay, Emma tries to help Michelle come out into the open and stop hiding her secret. The second half of the story follows Michelle’s struggle with discrimination and fear.  However, as the story is told from Emma’s point of view, the reader doesn’t get to see Michelle’s emotions. Although it is clear that Emma cares for her roommate, the battle isn’t Emma’s so it lacks emotion and suspense.

A Touch of Scarlet’s best moments are when Emma goes into the world of Hester and The Scarlet Letter.  When Emma watches the plot of the book unfold, she learns that each situation can be viewed from different perspectives and that forgiveness and honesty are important in life.

The book delves into the voodoo religion, showing how to make a hex. Another troubling portion of the story is when Emma learns how to leave her body and travel to The Scarlet Letter’s world.

Emma is shown to be a troubled teen who is trying to deal with life’s complications. She makes mistakes but cares for her friends. Plus, whe does not have sex or do drugs. However, several of the characters are seen drunk, smoking marijuana, and having sex.

Sexual Content

  • Throughout the book Emma kisses three different boys.
  • Emma and Gray kiss many times throughout the book. In one scene Emma tells Gray that, “My dad worries you’re going to steal my virginal innocence.” Even though Emma considers having sex with Gray, she does not.
  • Emma and Gray make out. She describes the sensation of Gray touching her.  “My body lit up like a pinball machine. Before I knew it, I was lying on the ground, my dress hitched up around my waist, with Grey’s body shifting on top of mine . . . I tore at his shirt, trying to undo the buttons with cold, nervous fingers . . . A part of me wanted to go for it—to lose myself in the moment.”
  • Emma and her roommate, Michelle, talk about how Michelle cheated on her boyfriend.  Michelle says, “It was a little more than kissing . . . I had to tell someone. It’s been eating me up inside.”
  • After a breakup, Emma kisses her roommate’s boyfriend. “Then we were really kissing, his lips on my lips, his hand gripping the back of my neck.”
  • Michelle’s roommate struggles with the fact that she is gay, but she doesn’t want anyone to know about it.
  • One of the characters tells about when she accidently told her friends that her cousin was gay. “Chelsea got all weirded out and Amber flipped because apparently—news to me—she had hooked up with him a few times the summer before. So Amber starts telling me he’s going to hell . . . I feel like vomiting, partly from drinking too many margaritas and partly because I’ve just realized my friend are complete assholes.”


  • Emma thinks about her mother who killed herself by walking into the ocean. Emma has dreams where she sees her mother walking into the water and Emma tries to save her. “I plunged to the bottom, trying to dive under the tumult, but the waves kept careening over me.”
  • Emma travels to the world of the scarlet letter. Abigail sticks a large needed into her belly and then accuses Elizabeth of being a witch. Elizabeth is arrested when, “the constable finds a poppet with a needle in its belly and accuses Elizabeth of using it as a voodoo doll.”
  • While playing hockey, Emma purposely hits another girl with a hockey puck. “I watched in fascination as it sailed through the air, seeming to hover in slow motion right before it connected with Elise’s exquisite cheekbone.”
  • When Gray finds another boy at Emma’s house. Gray wants to, “smash his face in.” Emma tells him, “You should be thanking him, not trying to smash him to a bloody pulp like some macho dickhead.”
  • In her dream world, Emma is chased by a mob of women who fling mud at her. “Fear and adrenaline surged through me as I ran through the forest, hearing their haunting voices behind me and feeling the pelts of mud at my back.”
  • Emma and Flynn kiss. “His mouth tasted earthy and sweet, like smoke and sage. And then I surrendered to the kiss, allowing him to draw me in, one hand on the back of my neck, the other making its way down my waist.”
  • In her dream world, someone tries to burry Emma alive and turn her into a zombie. “After he poured the last of the dirt on me, he reached in his basket and pulled out one last red rose, which turned black in his hands. He threw it onto my makeshift grave and laughed, ‘this is your fate.”
  • In biology, the class must dissect a cat. Michelle deskins the cat. One of the lab partners tells Michelle not to cut too close to the cat’s tail. The girls laugh when Michelle says, “I wouldn’t touch this cat’s anus with a ten-foot pole.”
  • At the end of the book, the girls find out that their male headmaster had an “inappropriate relationship” with a student when the headmaster worked at an all-male school.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Emma gets back to school she thinks, “Lockwood girls didn’t like their parents sticking around any longer than necessary, anxious to break out the booze for the first-night celebrations.”
  • Emma pulls out her cell phone, “looking down at it like a drug addict staring at a fix.”
  • Flynn drinks often, as well as smokes a joint, which is passed around between several others.
  • Flynn’s “father is an asshole and his mother is knocked out on prescription drugs half the time.”
  • Throughout the book, several characters drink as well as talk about things that happened when they were drunk.
  • Emma’s grandmother drinks often. Once the grandmother is admonished, “You’ve had enough whiskey for three people.”


  • A boy asks someone, “When are you two lovebirds going to get off your asses and join us on stage?”
  • After the school finds out the Emma kissed her roommate’s boyfriend she is called a “bitch” and a “slut.” Emma says she is “sick of the slut-shaming.”
  • Emma’s friend is called a “dyke” several times in the story.
  • “Oh my god” and variations of “asshole” are used often.
  • When someone sees Emma and Flynn kissing, he says, “what the hell, man?” Flynn replies, “I’m such a fuck-up.”


  • A major part of the plot is that while running, Emma goes into a trance like state and enters the world of the book The Scarlet letter. After the first time Emma enters the world of The Scarlet Letter, she wonders who she saw. “Ghost lingering in a parallel universe, caught between my world and their own?”
  • Emma is told that she must be careful in her dream world because, “a voodoo priest can put people into trancelike states, and then bury them alive . . . they steak their ti-bone-ange (soul) thus depriving them of free will and conscience. That’s how zombies are created.”
  • Emma learns a “black magic” spell to remove a person “from your path.” Later in the story, Emma and her friends cast the spell. Emma is told, “a hex is just a formal way of putting a wish into the universe.”
  • At a slumber party, the girls play Bloody Mary.  Emma is freaked out when she sees, “Gray’s face, flickering in the candlelight . . . Behind him was a find aura of red, almost like Hester’s ghost was standing behind him.”
  • Emma learns how to send her spirit into the dream world while her body stays in one place. “I imagined myself a dolphin, half of my mind shut down to let me rest; the other half active and alert. It was this second half I sent out wandering.”

Spiritual Content

  • Michelle says that God hates her because she doesn’t believe in God.
  • Michelle’s aunt is “part dream interpreter, part voodoo practitioner, and all around wise woman. She believed in the spirit world and claimed to communicate with the dead.”
  • Emma goes and stands in the same spot where she was hit by lightning. She wonders, “If God would be audacious enough to strike the same place, and person, twice.”
  • When Emma is having her dreams, she is told that, “The Haitian people believe you have two parts of your soul-le ti-bon-ange, or your little angel, and le gros-bon-ange, your big angel. Now the little angel is like your shadow soul.  It’s only visible in dreams or visions, and helps you communicate with the spirits or the loa, kind of like your conscience. But the big angel is your fate soul, the one that determines your destiny or prophesizes your future.”
  • Emma goes to Easter service. “I hadn’t been to church since Christmas, and I felt a little guilty about it. It wasn’t’ that I didn’t believe in God, more than I questioned what kind of God he was.  Anyone who’s lost a parent must go through this crisis of faith, asking, How could a merciful God take my mother away?”
  • Emma thinks, “Michelle claimed to be an atheist, with science her only religion. She often scoffed at Darlene’s voodoo beliefs, but deep down, I think Michelle had some faith of her own, even if it didn’t conform to any church or institutions view of the cosmos.”

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