Tuesday, June 10, 2008
13 Little Blue Envelopes-- Maureen Johnson
There is something romantic about the idea of traveling through Europe by train guided only by the letters a now deceased Aunt left as a road map. However, in reality, a seventeen year old girl traveling alone with no guidebook, map, money, plan, or contact information is quite a dangerous and slightly frightening endeavor. In 13 Little Blue Envelopes, Ginny is on a path of self-discovery guided by her beloved runaway artist aunt, who recently died from brain cancer. Her Aunt Peg left her 13 envelopes and explicit instructions: open them one at a time, follow the directions on each letter, and absolutely do not contact home for any reason. Also, bring nothing but a small backpack with clothes in it and no money of your own (a small sum of Euros will be waiting at the first destination). Aunt Peg leads Ginny all over Europe with her letters, and Ginny does learn more about herself and come out of her shell a bit. It was an engaging read (I love books set in other countries), but I do have some serious problems with the book.
First, for a book that is supposed to be realistic fiction, I found it to be phenomenally unrealistic. Not allowing someone to consult guidebooks, make train or hotel reservations, contact home, or bring any money of their own is pretty risky. Many truly serendipitous events take place and without them, Ginny would have been seriously hurt, stranded, or worse. Also there is an alarming scene when Ginny goes back to a strange man's apartment... while nothing terrible happens (the man took no for an answer), in reality she probably would have been assaulted. While I absolutely trust that teens have enough wit to know the plot of this book is over-romanticized, I don't like the picture perfect way everything turned out for Ginny.
Hesitations aside, I would still recommend this book to a teen girl who was looking for something similar to the second Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants book, or any book taking place in Europe. For whatever reason, I am being a little hard on this book (probably because it got so many rave reviews and I was expecting it to be better). It isn't terrible... it just isn't great.