Dec 3, 2008

13 Little Blue Envelopes

Maureen Johnson, 13 Little Blue Envelopes, 2005, HarperTeen.

Ginny's Aunt Peg died three months ago from a brain tumor, so what's she doing sending Ginny a package with 13 blue envelopes she is to open only as instructed? The first letter sends her to NYC where she picks up a plane ticket to London and an ATM card which her aunt writes will fund her "quest". What follows is an expedition through Europe that asks her to do such things as "ask Piet about Rembrandt's The Night Watch" and "make an offering to the Vestal Virgins at the Roman Coliseum." As Ginny makes her way through the continent she discovers the true story behind her Aunt's last two years on earth and finds herself shedding her shyness and inhibitions with every mile.

While the writing of this story is admittedly weak, the plot proves irresistible. Johnson takes a formulaic "backpack through Europe after high school graduation" story and turns it into something better although she does rely on many of the tropes one usually finds in those stories. Her characters could use some fleshing out, Ginny remains a bland heroine despite her apparent daring yet her interactions with the other characters she meets along the way are realistic which helps move the story along.

This is a good light read but not for teens who want the quintessential "backpack through Europe" story. Instead this is better for those who want a story about how people come out of their shells and make discoveries about themselves.

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