Monday, April 25, 2011

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

Ginny has always lived in awe and admiration of her eccentric Aunt Peg. But a few years ago, Aunt Peg packed up her NYC apartment without so much as a word to her family as to where she was going. Recently, Ginny received news of the passing of her aunt along with 13 envelopes from her that includes instructions to fly to London and a strict warning to only open the envelopes one at a time.

What Ginny encounters at the hand of her dead aunt is the adventure of a lifetime and an eventual sense of closure as to what happened to Peg before she died.  Ginny meets some friends and some shady characters along the way, but all of it is done in a spirit of adventure and a hope that Ginny will find herself through discovering her aunt's mysterious story.

I was excited to discover that Maureen Johnson's e-book version of 13 Little Blue Envelopes was free on Barnes & Noble and Amazon's website for two weeks. It was such a great offer to entice people to want to read her upcoming sequel The Last Little Blue Envelope.

So let me get the bad stuff out of the way first: while I loved the story itself, I was not a fan of the characters.  Ginny felt much too distant and difficult to empathize with. I think part of that had to do with the fact that it was written in third person and I have a REALLY hard time connecting with characters in third person POV. I wanted Ginny to tell her own story rather than some distant, unknown narrator. Even if Ginny did tell her own story though, I think a major part of her unlikability was how disconnected she felt from her own experience. Part of that I'm sure had to do with the fact that she was grieving the loss of her aunt, but another part of it felt like she just wasn't a character that had been fully developed.  

In addition to Ginny, I thought the rest of the characters felt underdeveloped as well. Keith, who should have been bigger than life (I mean, the dude wears a KILT and writes and performs his own musicals for Pete's sake!) just felt sort of "blah" and difficult to imagine.  Richard was another character who should have popped off the page, but instead he was just kind of "there" (which in a way I think was by design since his purpose in the story was just to be there for Ginny).

Given my preference for character-driven stories rather than plot-driven stories, I probably would have immediately abandoned this book and never given it a second thought. But Maureen Johnson managed to grab me with her plot and that's because she wrote a contemporary fiction that takes place across Europe.  I absolutely adore everything about traveling across Europe so I was fully engrossed in the travelogue aspect of the story. And with passages like this, I remember just how much I miss traveling across that beautiful continent:

Paris seemed to make good on the promise it made in every photograph of it she'd ever seen. People carried long baguettes. Couples walked hand in hand through asparagus-thin streets. And before long, a round moon hung overhead in an electric blue sky and the Eiffel Tower began to twinkle with a thousand little lights. The air was warm, and as Ginny leaned against the side of the Pont Neuf and watched a dinner boat slide along the Seine under her, she thought that this was a perfect Paris night.

*Le  sigh*

I'm not even going to address the lack of believability and the fact that Ginny's parents aren't even a blip on the radar in this story.  They're mentioned in passing, but there is never any discussion about, "What will my parents do when they find out I just hopped a plane to London and can't communicate with anyone back home per my dead aunt's instructions?" I'm going to take this story for what it is: a fun, romp across Europe with a brooding, grieving, angsty teenager, and leave it at that.  

Even with my criticisms, this book was thoroughly page-turning and I look forward to seeing what The Last Little Blue Envelope has in store!

Cover Comments:  
The cover at the top of the page is the paperback edition and it is MUCH better than this original cover art. This is an example of a person designing a book cover that clearly did not read the book. I would almost be so bold to say that the original cover art is almost offensive it is so off the mark. Ginny is not the type of character who would ever wear something that would expose her midriff, let alone pose in such a provocative way. Perhaps she would closer to the end of the novel, but even still - her persona through most of the story was very introverted and self-deprecating. The girl on the cover of this book gives off vibes of thinking quite highly of herself and that she is quite the catch. That is not Ginny's persona in the slightest. I was glad to see that they made the paperback cover a much better reflection of Ginny.

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
Published: October 2006 by Harper Teen
Pages: 336
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: Young Adult

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the review! It sounds like a book I would like to read.