Maureen Johnson's 13 Little Blue Envelopes
Book review by Ramona Davis
Age: Young Adult
A Girl, Her Backpack, The Adventure of a Lifetime
When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. That's the opportunity 17 year old Ginny Blackstone had shortly after she got the call that her beloved Aunt Peg died from a brain tumor. Peg was a carefree, New York artist who loved adventure, and she was the one who made Ginny's normal life interesting.
She introduced Ginny to the wonders of museums and plays, taught her about art, and promised that she would always be around if Ginny needed her. Not even death could make her renege on her promise, and she carries it out by sending Ginny a little blue envelope containing $1000, a letter, and four very strange rules.
Rule Number 1: You may take only what fits in your backpack...
And so begins Ginny's intercontinental adventure, beginning in New York where she picks up a package that contains 12 more envelopes that will guide her across Europe.
According to the letter in the first envelope, Ginny must open each of the envelopes upon reaching specific destinations during her journey, and follow the task it contains.
From New York, Ginny is headed to London to find out what Aunt Peg's friend bought for the queen, and that answer will be the PIN that Ginny needs to gain access to a bank account that will fund all of her adventures. From London she is on to Scotland, then Rome, Paris, the Netherlands, and Greece, experiencing new cultures and meeting new people along the way, some of them friends of her late aunt, others, new friends for Ginny herself.
Review - 13 Little Blue Envelopes
Maureen Johnson did a wonderful job of making Ginny's experiences realistic enough to draw the reader in. Her descriptions of the monuments and historical significance of the places that Ginny was sent to explore give you the desire to plan a trip of your own.
She creates the perfect backdrop to experience Ginny's frustration when she doesn't quite understand the point of each task (like asking Piet in Paris about a famous painting that he sees everyday, but not quite knowing what information to glean from him about it), but also to experience her immersion into each of the cultures and individuals she comes in contact with.
You even find yourself celebrating with Ginny as she finds her strength and fortitude in the end when all of her possessions are stolen in Greece.
Review - 13 Little Blue Envelopes
What I did find hard to believe, however, was the reaction, or lack thereof, of Ginny's mother.
I can't begin to imagine how she readily allowed her 17 year old daughter to travel to Europe with no plans, no mode of communication with home, and no chaperone, all on the whim of the sister whom she presented as irresponsible and flighty.
Overall, 13 Little Blue Envelopes was easy to read and hard to put down. It reminded me of a teen version of the adult non-fiction book, Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman (which I absolutely love). In both these books, the women, timid and unsure of what their future abroad holds, drop everything, leaving behind what they know to travel across the globe with no definite plans- just a few dollars, a backpack full of possessions, and pen and paper to write it all down. I say, way to go, girls; what a wonderful way to experience the one life we have to live!
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