Thursday, July 7, 2011

Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes

"13 Little Blue Envelopes," by Maureen Johnson, is one of those books that has been following me around for a while. In fact, it may be the one that has been chasing me the longest. It came out right before I went to college (that was the fall of 2005, for those of you who, for some reason, don't have all the details of my life memorized), and I saw it at a bookstore. I read the summary and thought about getting it but, for reasons I don't actually remember, decided not to buy it (this was obviously before my YA-obsession stage; I think I was into mysteries at that point). After that, I saw it all the time at other bookstores, Walmart, etc., and the more time that passed, the fuzzier my memory got about why I decided against the book, until I started thinking that since I didn't buy it the first time, there was obviously a good reason and it wasn't worth my time now.

Finally, a couple months ago, I saw it for free on Kindle (one of those random deals), probably a result of the sequel coming out at the end of April. So I decided to give it a try. There's a line I love in "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" (if you haven't read that book yet, HOP TO IT) that goes, "Perhaps there is some sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers," and that's how I feel about "13 Little Blue Envelops": I'm glad it didn't give up on me and kept following me around until I gave in. (Good thing it's a book and not a man, because otherwise that behavior would just be stalkerish.)

It's about a girl named Ginny, who receives a letter from her crazy Aunt Peg, telling her to head off to London with only a backpack full of necessities--no maps, no guides, no phone, and no money except what Aunt Peg provides. The thing is, though, that Peg died unexpectedly a few months earlier. But Ginny decides to go anyway, and receives 12 more envelopes, which she can only open one at a time as she finishes the tasks Peg set out for her. Soon Ginny is traveling all over Europe, meeting new people, getting lost, and just generally trying to survive on this trip that is WAY out of her comfort zone.

I think part of the reason I like this book so much is that I love Ginny. She's shy and awkward and fairly horrible at interacting with people (okay, obviously she reminds me of, well, me). But despite all this and the fact that she's too practical to be comfortable with this crazy trip, she goes anyway, which is one of the things I admire most about her--how she attacks the challenges in the envelopes even though they are hard for her. And I love that although she changes and pushes the boundaries of her comfort zone, she doesn't lose who she is at her core. I feel like in some YAs that deal with changing and growing up, the characters are unrecognizable by the end of the book. But in this one, Ginny's still herself at the end, only a little braver.

And man, can I just say that after reading this book, I seriously want to be sent off on a mysterious pre-paid quest across Europe? I've basically accepted that fact that I'll always be too poor to actually afford to go to Europe, but this book helps me feel like I'm living that fantasy, even if it's just for 300 pages.

I think the only problem I have with the book is that Ginny never really has that final moment of insight about herself that is the staple of YA figure-out-who-you-are books. And while I guess that's probably more realistic and true to life, it still felt weird not having that genre convention in a book that otherwise follows the rest of the conventions. So for me, the ending felt a little flat--I was all prepared for this big epiphany that never occurred.

But overall, a good book. I'm even thinking about investigating the sequel, which is really quite an endorsement, considering my disdain for sequels.

I'll leave you with my favorite quote, which I mostly like because it was one of the many moments of the book when I was like, "Did the author secretly observe me as the model for Ginny? Cuz she's just getting too eerily similar to me..."
[From a letter Ginny writes to her friend--the rest of the book is in third person]

I have always been kind of proud that I have never lost it over a guy. I have never been one of those people who freaked out in the bathroom or did something lame [. . .] I have always been very whatever about the whole thing. The guys I would have liked were totally unattainable, so, given the choice between making a huge effort for guys I wasn't really interested in or being an independent human being (hanging out with my friends, making plans to escape New Jersey, injuring myself on household appliances), I decided to be an independent creature."

1 comment:

  1. OK despite your disdain you HAVE to read the sequel to this book! its even better than this one was! I was "meh it was ok" about 13LBE but when I read last little blue envelope I couldn't put it down! I LOVED it!


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