Saturday, July 28, 2007

Thirteeen mysterious little envelopes

17-year-old Ginny is about to embark on the adventure of her life. The thing is, she has no idea where the adventure is going to take her - or exactly what it entails.

Her beloved Aunt Peg was an artist and the most interesting person Ginny knew. And what's more, she had the ability to make plain, ordinary Ginny's plain, ordinary life seem interesting, too. When they spent time together, life abounded with limitless possibilities. They played imaginary travel games, exploring countries by visiting art galleries, restaurants and museums.

But then her aunt suddenly took off for Europe, leaving Ginny and her family without a word for months on end, and then, before they even saw her again, came the news that Aunt Peg had died.

Ginny is experiencing a kaleidoscope of emotions: anger with her aunt about leaving so abruptly, sadness at losing her, disbelief that such a thing could have happened at all. Then she receives a letter from her aunt, written when she realized she would not be seeing Ginny again, along with $1000 in cash. Her aunt invites her to play one last travel game, only this one won’t be imaginary – she is to book a one-way ticket to London. Further instructions will follow.

Exactly where she’s going, Ginny doesn’t know. She is to follow the rules of the game, which include no guidebooks, no extra money beyond what her aunt will provide, and no electronic crutches (no laptop, no cell phone, no iPod, etc.). Instead of a map or guidebook, Aunt Peg has given Ginny thirteen little blue envelopes. She can only open one at a time, and she must follow the instructions completely before she can open the next one. Ginny embarks on an adventure that will lead her through Europe, opening one envelope after the next, trying to understand exactly what it is that her aunt is trying to teach her as she goes.

Ginny's adventures make for fun reading, with action, romance, and the solving of little mysteries about her aunt every stop of the way. Following Aunt Peg's bizarre instructions, Ginny finds herself learning things in a way she never would have if she were traveling in a more conventional way. My only issue was that I found it hard to believe that the parents of a 17-year-old would allow their daughter to travel alone to Europe with no cell phone, no way of knowing where she was or how to contact her. But although those thoughts were in the back of my mind as I read, I still enjoyed traveling along on Ginny's voyage of discovery.

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson (HarperTeen, 2006)


  1. You know, I was thinking just the same as I read your review - "But she is only 17!" But despite that, I really like the premise of the book.

    This is one of the reasons why I like your blog so much - you review YA books that I wouldn't otherwise hear about anywhere else!

  2. You just wanted to read another book with a character named "Ginny", didn't you? ;)

    The premise of this book sounds so cool. I have to agree that there's no way in hell her parents would've let her do that would this be reality, but since it's fictional, we'll let that slide! I love books like this.

  3. The idea does sound good, I agree. :)

  4. Nymeth - thanks! I actually discovered this book when I was exploring the blog links in Chris's blog. There was one to Neil Gaiman's site, where he mentions a book that was challenged in a school library, with a link to the author's site, and that author was Maureen Johnson. I feel very strongly about censorship, especially where school libraries are concerned. Apparently there was a secondary character who is gay and was portrayed in a (gasp!) positive way, something like that. My library's copy of the book (The Bermudez Triangle) was out, but this one by the same author looked fun, and that's why I read it!

    And Chris - it's funny you should say that! I don't think I even noticed the character's name while I was reading the book, but Ginny Weasley immediately came to mind when I started writing this post! Sigh. I had to take a break from fantasy and read a few things completely different so the end of HP wouldn't be depressingly in the back of my mind as I read.

    Erin - yes, I loved the idea, too, and kind of wished I had a crazy aunt (and crazier parents) who would have let me do something like that when I was 17! :-)


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