May 2, 2013

Review: 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

Title: 13 Little Blue Envelopes (Little Blue Envelope #1)
Author: Maureen Johnson
Release Date: September 26th, 2006
Publisher: HarperTeen
Page Count: 336
Source: Borrowed from the New York Public Library
Rating: Exciting adventure BUT this whole absentee parent thing? Yeah, no.
Inside little blue envelope 1 are $1,000 and instructions to buy a plane ticket.

In envelope 2 are directions to a specific London flat.

The note in envelope 3 tells Ginny: Find a starving artist.

Because of envelope 4, Ginny and a playwright/thief/ bloke-about-town called Keith go to Scotland together, with somewhat disastrous-though utterly 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.

[Summary Source: Goodreads]

Ginny gets crazy instructions from her crazy aunt to go on a crazy backpacking trip through Europe sans cellphone or guidebook or laptop. The rub? SHE HAS NO ITINERARY. She has some cash (maybe?) and envelopes she has to open one by one as she travels, alone, through I don't even know where. Oh, and along the way she meets a cute British boy. Obvs.

Let's break this down: 



Yeah, I pulled out Sassy Gay Friend for this one.
This past January, at age 23, I picked up and went to London for 2 months for work experience (I feel like a lot of you knew this already). Anyway, yeah, it was a little reckless, but I had a cellphone (on which my mother called me AT LEAST twice a week), about a dozen contact numbers, a laptop, multiple guidebooks, an internship, funds, friends in said country and about a million other things Ginny didn't have that SHE SHOULD HAVE HAD. I AM 23.

Now, YOU might think my mom was a little MUCH about all of the long distance checking in she did, but that's NOTHING compared to the vibe I got from Ginny's parents. Why/how they actually let this happen is BEYOND me.

And then I don't understand the role Ginny's BFF Miriam plays. It doesn't make ANY SENSE AT ALL. If Miriam really is her BFF, wouldn't we have actually heard from the girl for realzies? The girl REALLY didn't seem to have a plot point beyond Ginny's innate need for a bestie.

I dunno. I think this book would have been better if it opened with a chapter or two of Ginny at home. I wanna see how the arguments to let Ginny go went, at the VERY LEAST.

Okay. *Deep Breath*

The rest of the book? I liked. Everything happened the way it should have. There's the romance with Keith which kind of went somewhere, kind of didn't. The awkward relationship with Richard, which I LOVED. I even liked the nature of Ginny's relationship with her aunt. I enjoyed the way Ginny's perception of her aunt shifted because of what her aunt wanted her to do. And what's REALLY great is that I think this is what Ginny's aunt wanted. Ginny's aunt isn't the kind of person who has a plan or predicts outcomes. She just did her thing and that's all she wanted for her uptight niece. Whatever comes out of that, comes out of that. And honestly? It's exactly what the girl needed. I'm just not sure it all happened in a believable way, given the sudden absentee parenting.

Anyway, aside from loving the characters and all of their relationships, I also really loved the situations Ginny found herself in. I buy it. Even meeting Keith the way she does. Ginny is so bizarre and neurotic that the whole thing WOULD happen to her that way. And all of the European adventures are things that would DEFINITELY happen. EXCEPT maybe what happened in Amsterdam. That was a little strange.  But yeah. Italy and Greece make a LOT of sense. And so does Denmark.

What happens in all these countries, you might ask? READ THE BOOK AND FIND OUT.

The long and short of it?

Plot: An interesting coming of age story, to be sure. Also, adventure and travel, which I love, so HURRAY!
World Building: I don't buy that Ginny's parents would let her go off like that with no phone/without checking in. I just don't. While my rant-y paragraph makes it seem like I got too stuck on that to enjoy the book - I didn't. I just feel like bizarre and sudden absentee parenting from supposedly otherwise overprotective parents should be highlighted as inconsistent. I did like everything else about the set up of this book, though.
Character Development: Ginny really does learn a lot about herself and what she wants through her crazy aunt and I DIG IT. Also, I totally enjoyed seeing/reading Ginny's aunt's story/progression through the letters.
Prose: Cute and quirky. More things to dig.
Would I Recommend This Book?: This book didn't work so much for me because of the confused family dynamic. But that doesn't make this novel any less endearing. I don't think I'd buy it, but it's definitely worth borrowing from the library for a quick, easy read!

What would YOU do if you got a stack of envelopes that demanded you take off for Europe from a beloved deceased relative? I don't know if I'd go, but I'd like to know if you'd skip it or do what Ginny did. And HOW would your family react? Let me know in the comments below!


  1. I really liked this one. But it was one of my first BACK TO YA reads. I remember being at the beach and reading it in one sitting. Fun and fluff and I didn't have to think too much.

    But as I get more into YA and find what I really like, it's definitely not a favorite and I haven't enjoyed a Maureen Johnson book like I have with others.

    WHERE ARE YOUR PARENTS is a question I have a lot in books. A lot.

    1. I wonder if book blogging has made reading less fun in a way, since we read so much more and we're much more critical with what we read, y'know? But I like it either way.

      Also, YES. PARENTS. In so many books. It makes me so mad.

  2. I read this one in the early days of my blog. While it was fun to read all about her adventures, it honestly bothered me that she could go and do that without parental concern or anyone with her! I mean, come on, my parents would have made sure someone was with me at all times or that they could check in regularly. So it was hard to believe that part. It was fun to read though, as I've said, so that's good at least!

    1. DEFINITELY a fun read. And it's not just that the absence of the parents is unrealistic, but it's also that the book would be so much more compelling WITH the parents. So that's frustrating.

  3. I read this one about 5 years ago. I liked it, but I wasn't in love. Part of me is just - really, you're running off because of letters your aunt left you? I don't know. I couldn't really identify with that. But I liked the characters and the story interested me enough to finish it.

    Also, I agree on the whole absentee parenting!!

    1. I think I get the up and running because I've kind of done it myself. But I don't get how her parents would just let her go like that without her taking a cell phone at least. Especially HER parents.

  4. I read this one a while back, and while I liked it, I can see where you're coming from. Especially with the whole parents thing but I think the whole magic of it was the fact that this would never ever happen. Once I had gotten over the fact, I found myself enjoying it a lot. I love travelling in books so this was perfect. The only thing though, I thought there were just so many characters, it was confusing.

    1. Hmmm perhaps that is part of the magic, but I'd rather a rational contemporary read. I do hear the too-many-people complaint though. It didn't bother me but I can see why it might bother someone else.

  5. I read this book and I really enjoyed the adventure. In the second book, there is some very heartfelt moments and I liked the second book better. I totally agree with the whole parents thing. But, I guess if you wanted to write a fun book about travel, then parents would be a burden. I do wish there were some parental guidance.

    1. I'm DEFINITELY going to read the second one. And yeah, parents are a burden, but we all have them, so I like it better when they're there, y'know?


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