Thursday, 4 August 2011
Review: 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
By: HarperCollins Children's Books
If your free-spirited aunt left you 13 little blue envelopes:
Would you follow the directions?
Would you travel around the world?
Would you open the envelopes one by one?
Inside envelope 1:
Is money and instructions to buy a plane ticket
Inside envelope 2:
Are directions to a specific London flat
Inside envelope 3:
Tells Ginny: Find a starving artist
Because of envelope 4:
Ginny and a playwright/thief/man-about-town called Keith go to Scotland together, with disastrous - though really romantic - results. But will she ever see him again?
Everything about Ginny will change this summer and it's all because of the 13 little blue envelopes...
I had such an emotional reaction to this book! I have to give real credit to Maureen Johnson's writing here: The blurb on my copy didn't give away what happened to Aunt Peg and when it was revealed, I honestly felt gutted, even though I'd only heard about the character second-hand via Ginny's narration and only for about 15 pages. I also found Ginny to be a really relatable character and when she was mortified, nervous or frightened, I was cringing, sweating or shaking right along with her.
In real-life, I am a Ginny who forced herself to be an Aunt Peg, so I did the whole backpacker thing often in my teens and early twenties. In my opinion, 13 Little Blue Envelopes gives a very realistic account of what that is like and I think it perfectly captured how incredibly lonely it can be. Yes, you see some beautiful things and meet some nice people and have some cool experiences - that's the side of travelling that's often portrayed. However, it's when Ginny is feeling the lows of it all that the book most struck a chord with me.
I liked that Ginny's adventures in Europe stayed feasible and there were no wacky, over-the-top, Eurotrip-like incidents. The things that happened to her and the people she met were (mostly) recognisable to me and seemed probable enough. I hated the character of Keith, but I've known guys like him and seen foreign girls get swayed by the accent so I don't hold it against Ginny that she falls for him. But to English me? Guys like that induce eye-rolling. Also as a Londoner, it was strange to read a book where someone is confused by the tube system and awed at seeing a fox and when Johnson explains these things it took me out of the story a little, but I'm sure that's the same for anybody who reads a story where the character visits their city.
I would class 13 Little Blue Envelopes as a 'smart' summer read: it's not silly or fluffy; what it is is a thoughtful and well-written coming-of-age tale.
Rating: 4 stars