Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Book Review: 13 Little Blue Envelopes

Author: Maureen Johnson
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers
Release Date: September 26, 2006
Pages: 319
Source: Library
Why I read it: I had read another book by this author and the concept intrigued me.
Summary: (from Goodreads)  When Ginny receives 13 little blue envelopes with instructions to buy a plane ticket to London, she's soon on an adventure that will change her in more ways than one.

What I thought: I have mixed feelings about this book. I loved the concept. A European/traveling adventure is my dream come true, especially one that involves a little mystery and discovering one's self. But I did have some issues with the book.

The concept, though I liked it, was very unrealistic. I can't believe that Ginny's parents, especially her mother, who seem to dislike Ginny's aunt, would let Ginny run off to a foreign country with only her backpack and some money. I think if Ginny had been a little older, maybe had just graduated or was in college, I would have found this more believable.

I felt that Ginny's characterization was not very well developed. She just seemed to let things happen to her, instead of propelling herself forward. Granted, her instructions were sometimes not clear, but she seemed passive in a lot of cases. I can see how the author intended the letters and her adventure to be a sort of coming of age story, but I felt that Ginny was sometimes a little stupid about her actions, especially when she went to Rome and her traveling with a family in the Netherlands.

I did like the characterization of Ginny's Aunt. I loved Aunt Peg at first, but as the novel wore on, she angered me with her flightiness. I liked how Johnson showed Peg as both admirable and also very irresponsible. Ginny obviously idealized her, and I wanted to idealize her, too, but Ginny was able to see how Peg was a deeply flawed person and easily ran away from her commitments. I think this understanding about her aunt was the most compelling part of the story.

That seems to be the whole point of the story to me, Ginny is bland and seems numb until she moves outside of her comfort zone. Aunt Peg's letters helped her to come alive and run off and have an adventure, but also, unlike Aunt Peg, Ginny is able to understand that personal connections are very important. Aunt Peg doesn't seem to learn this lesson until she is dying. I was touched when I learned that Peg and Richard (the first person Ginny stays with in London) had fallen in love, even though Richard doesn't learn this until after Peg dies. I teared up a little at the end, especially when Ginny writes the final letter to her aunt.

I also liked the travel parts of the novel, and Johnson clearly did her research. I have not visited all the places, but I think Johnson made them come alive in the novel. I like how Johnson sets books outside of the United States and they seem to be well researched.

Overall, I enjoyed the book with some reservations, especially in regards to the believeability of the plot. It was a nice, quick summer read.

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