13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
This was a neat little YA book. Virginia Blackstone, ‘Ginny,’ is sent on a quest from her recently deceased Aunt Peg. Ginny is a seventeen year old girl who doesn’t get out much and is rather shy. Only when Ginny was with her Aunt Peg did she get out and do many things that she normally wouldn’t do on her own. About three months after receiving news that her aunt died, she received a letter telling her to pack a backpack with no maps or guide books. She was given enough money to get a passport and a plane ticket to London, but first she had stop in New York City for a package which has 13 Little Blue Envelopes.
These little letters sent her all across Europe to meet various people or just to experience an area. The description that Maureen Johnson gives on the various cities was fascinating. The first European city that Ginny flies to is London, and having recently been there, Ms. Johnson did a fabulous job of showing how the city appears to someone who has never been there before. From figuring out the currency to trying to get into the Underground (Tube), it was very amusing to read these incidents.
First of all, I found it incredible that a seventeen year-old girl would go and do all of these things on her own...especially one who is a professed shy person who didn’t leave her home-town, normally. Then, the aunt demanding that she have no contact with family. As a parent, that would NOT fly! When reading this novel, one has to suspend reality. It was a fun read, but somewhat unrealistic.
Next, some of the characters were a bit overdone or not drawn well enough. I should have felt more for what Ginny was feeling and going through, but thought that she was just acting like a normal teenager, regardless of the fact that she has been given an opportunity of a lifetime - that to travel around Europe and see different places and experience different cultures. Instead of reveling in this experience, she seemed bored and annoyed to be sent to all of these places, but did so because she was told to in a letter. Keith was just plain weird, if you ask me, but leave it to a teenage girl who hasn't been kissed before to fall for the first guy who does kiss her! I wanted to learn more about Richard, as he seemed to be a very interesting character, and I thought that he would be more 'wounded'.
After finishing this story, I would have thought that Ginny would have come up with more epiphanies than she did. It was an amazing journey that her aunt sent her on, but it was somewhat aimless, it seemed, as Ginny did not obviously experience the same things that her Aunt Peg did when she took that journey, as a much older lady.
The story was a neat concept, and some of the descriptions of locations was wonderful, but I thought it was a bit far-fetched. I would have liked to see Ginny ‘grow’ more as the story progressed. I would have liked to have seen Ginny experience places better, have her ‘understand’ the significance of the various places that her aunt sent her to. However, as I mentioned earlier, Ginny was so much younger than her aunt when Peg went to these places, and Ginny was not like her Aunt Peg in many ways... the first being how Peg was running away from a disease that took her life. I felt that Ginny was too young to take such a trip and understand what her aunt wanted her to learn.
There is a follow-on book and I have to say that I really don’t have a desire to continue this story. It might be a great book for younger people to read, but hopefully it will NOT give them the idea to travel across Europe with very little money and completely on their own with NO form of communication with their family. There were a few ‘cautionary’ experiences along the way...and, yes, I do know that this was fiction...very much so! I just wish that this 'quest' story had more growth of the main character and more tips for young adults if they do decide to travel abroad (safety and really ENJOYING the experiences that they have, not just running from one place to another, because someone told you to see these places).