Friday, August 19, 2011

Book Review: 13 Little Blue Envelopes

Point me in the direction of a teen book about England and I'm game. 13 Little Blue Envelopes, by Maureen Johnson, promised mystery and adventure in one of my favorite locations. This was the one riveting read that I actually completed while at CBLI. It did hold my attention, despite loads of implausible elements.

Seventeen year old Ginny has just received "13 little blue envelopes" from her spontaneous, irresponsible, wandering aunt. The same aunt who has recently died of cancer. Prior to her death, instead of creating her own bucket list (after all, she'd already done pretty much whatever she wanted to do whenever she wanted to do it), she has created a bucket list for her teenage niece, daughter of her ever-practical and reliable sister. Implausible, no? The solid sister would never allow her teenage daughter to wander England and Europe on a quest fabricated by the sister who would never settle down. Indeed, the spontaneous sister had actually disappeared without ever even informing them that she was ill. Hmmm. Even if you are spontaneous and have enormous wander lust, when one is sick, one generally wants to be near family, no?

Anyway, extending more than reasonable willful suspension of disbelief, the reader will discover that Ginny finds herself flying off on a grand adventure with a few established rules (from a non-rule oriented person): Ginny may only bring her backpack, no guidebooks or journals (???? - no journals, really? why?? why would an artistic, creative person not allow the creative, personal expression of a journal???) and no extra cash (again, why?). The whole adventure will be orchestrated by the free-flying Aunt Peg.

The first envelope provides ample cash for a ticket to London. The second envelope directs Ginny to a London flat where she meets Robert (a very solid individual who works at Harrods). The third instructs her to provide funds for a starving artist. Ginny ends up meeting a young playwright named Keith. With each envelope she opens she embarks on a new adventure and learns something about herself and her Aunt Peg.

It is a great premise and it truly was an interesting read, but somehow I still ended up with a not quite convinced taste in my mouth. Ginny was far too naive a character to have traveled across Europe with the only mishap being a lost backpack (containing the final letter - which leads to a second book apparently). Plus, too often the book read like a travel-log. I love reading about England and Europe, but wanted the story to be more convincing and more important than the descriptions of the travel.

For the average teen, this provides a delightful little read. For the individual who longs for arm-chair travel, it provides vicarious adventure. For me, I don't know if I will seek out the follow-up book, The 13th Letter.

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