13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, 319 pages, Alloy Entertainment, 2005.

1.5/5 stars (I didn’t hate this book… but I really, really disliked it.)

Taken from the cover synopsis:

“Rule #1: You may bring only what fits in your back pack. Don’t try to fake it with a purse or a carry-on.

Rule #2: You may not bring guidebooks, phrase books, or any kind of foreign language aid. And no journals.

Rule #3: You cannot bring extra money or credit/debit cards, travelers’ checks, etc. I’ll take care of all of that.

Rule #4: No electronic crutches. This means no laptop, no cell phone, no music, and no camera. You can’t call home or communicate with people in the U.S. by Internet or telephone. Postcards and letters are acceptable and encouraged.

That’s all you need to know for now. See you at 4th Noodle.

Inside little blue envelope 1 are $1,000 and instructions to buy a plant ticket.

Inside 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 her artist, a playwright/bloke-about-town called Keith, go to Scotland together, with somewhat disastrous-though utterly romantic-results. Ginny isn’t sure she’ll see Keith again, and definitely doesn’t know what to think about him.

Could the answer be in the envelopes?

Ginny doesn’t know it, but adventures in Rome and Paris are in envelopes 6 and 8. The rules are that she has to open one at a time, in order, so perhaps it isn’t surprising that she discovers things about her life and love one by one. Everything about Ginny will change this summer, and it’s all because of the 13 little blue envelopes.”

Okay, let’s talk about what happened in this book (or the first 129 pages of it… as that is as far as I could force myself to read.)

Growing up, Ginny was always very close to her Aunt Peg – a vibrant and artistic woman who could never stay in one place for very long. So, when Peg disappears from her Manhattan apartment for two months, no one seems all too concerned… Until Ginny and her family receive a phone call regarding Peg’s death. Some time later, Ginny gets a letter in which Peg explains that she has set up a summer long adventure for her niece, to help her explore and find herself, which will take Ginny across Europe.

At least, that’s what I think this book is about.

I wanted to like this book. No, I wanted to love this book. I’ve heard amazing things about Maureen Johnson, I was absolutely certain that I would love this book. The premise alone was captivating – a P.S. I Love You/coming of age story for teens… Unfortunately, this book fell flat. Way flat. Where do I begin? While reading the book, I took to jotting down the things that bugged me about the story/characters, so I think I’ll just start there.

1. Maureen Johnson wrote this book as though her readers intimately knew Ginny from the  beginning and because of this, she had zero character building. None at all. 129 pages in, and I cannot confidently tell you one thing that I know about Ginny. Okay, that isn’t true. She has brown hair and all of her toiletries are pink. That is about it. Ginny never shares an ounce of emotion and has about as much personality as a cardboard box.

2. The lack of emotion. Imagine, please: your beloved aunt dies from cancer (a cancer that she didn’t even tell you that she had), sends you a series of envelopes to help you “find yourself,” and expects you to embark on an insane journey. How would you react? First all, I’d be devastated and heart broken. Not only did Peg die, but she fled from her family and failed to tell them about her disease. Secondly, I’d be pissed that she had failed to notify me. Third, I’d be extremely frustrated that she thought that 13 letters would be enough to compensate and explain her decision. And last, I’d be annoyed that she expected me to go, let alone assumed that I needed help finding myself. How does Ginny react? “La la la la, that’s just Aunt Peg, guess I gotta buy a back pack!”

3. Ginny is 17 years old. In what universe would a mother allow her daughter to go to Europe alone? With no concrete living arrangements (other than what her deceased sister has arranged)? With no money… and express instructions to avoid electronic communication at all cost… I am 23 and my mother would be nervous about me going across the state by myself, let alone a foreign country with no money or way of contacting her.

4. Who the HECK is Miriam? Ginny randomly writes to her, and mentions her… but never explains who Miriam is. As far as I’m concerned, Miriam is her pet hamster.

Maybe I’m missing something about this book. I don’t know. Have you guys read it? If so, please let me know what you thought.

Happy reading!

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