Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson — A Book Review

My first reaction upon picking this book up was something along the lines of: ‘Oh my gosh, a travel book! Stuff that, a YA travel book. I must read this. It’s also by Maureen Johnson Queen Maureen. Bonus points! Let me happydance now!’  


Sadly, this novel fell short of my expectations by a huge margin, and I have to say that it was nonsensical and felt like it were written by a drunk debut author.  


The thing is that the story could have been absolutely awesome, and the author could’ve made it work if the plot actually made sense, instead of being a shoddy reincarnation of this:


I repeat: Ginny Blackstone, American teenager, wanders around Europe alone simply because her dead aunt left her a packet of instructions telling her to book a flight there.


Now, it would’ve made far more sense if Ginny were, say, a university student who had moved out of home. But as far as I could tell, she was still living with her parents, who had given consent for their daughter to follow her wildly unreliable dead aunt’s envelopes. I mean, really? What sort of parent would let their child backpack across Europe without supervision?


To top off all this, here are a list of rules that Ginny read and presumably believed were reasonable:

“Rule #1: You may bring only what fits in your backpack. 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 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. ”

Actually, scratch what I said earlier about this making sense if Ginny was a university student. Nobody, and I repeat nobody, not even adults or the most experienced of travellers, would leave for a foreign continent without money or any form of communication. All went well in 13 Little Blue Envelopes, but what happens if you’re sick? If you suddenly have an emergency? No spouse or parent would let their child or partner do this, young or old, and throughout the course of the novel, Ginny’s parents did not call her, send letters to her, or talk to her once.


Not even once. Disappearing Parent Syndrome? Check.


Moving onto Keith and Italian boy NDRE (Near Date-Rape Experience). So Ginny’s aunt tells her to donate about $500 dollars to a random artist in London, and so Ginny donates it to this guy called Keith, who has some sob backstory that I forgot about but is wholly uninteresting. Keith then proceeds to follow Ginny (!) around for various parts of the trip, claiming that he has to take the musical to different places and spread the love.


I still think he’s in it for the money.


So apparently this is supposed to be romance although Ginny and Keith only kiss about once from what I remember, even though I never felt a single spark fly between them and we never found out that much about Keith. Boring, nonsensical romance? Check.


Then, while in Italy, Ginny’s aunt tells her to go and ask a random Italian guy out for cake. Now, Ginny, being the impossibly smart girl that she is, decides to find this random unnamed Italian guy and even agrees to go up to his flat, where he proceeds to almost date rape her. It’s quite frankly disgusting and stupid, and an unnecessary addition to the story. ‘Romantic tension’? Check. Well, kind of.


Here’s another thing: the whole story centres around Ginny chasing her aunt’s trip around Europe and uncovering the mystery of the envelopes, so you would assume that readers should have some kind of emotional attachment to the aunt. I had none, so I was just along for the ride and reminiscing about living in London. The plot was really below average with no clear outline, the envelopes appeared to have no correlation to each other, and not once did Ginny feel the urge to open all of them, just to make sure her aunt wasn’t fooling around with her. Ugh. Semi brain-dead protagonist? Check.


I love a good travel story, and I love travelling. I want to plan a huge road trip around Europe the summer I get my full license, but this isn’t the way to do it. While 13 Little Blue envelopes did bring back nice memories of life in England and whatnot, it wasn’t a stunning example of good YA literature, and not something I would recommend others to buy.

And the ending? It was too neat–it just felt like a cheap copout.

Maybe if you can overlook all of this novel’s faults, you’ll like it better than I did. But for now, I’m off to read someone else’s writing. I think I’m giving up on Maureen Johnson for a while and moving to Veronica Roth.