Unlike many other books in the Top 100 of Best Young Adult Fiction, I actually read 13 Little Blue Envelopes a while ago. It was a free Kindle deal once and I took advantage of that. I’d never heard of Maureen Johnston, who is a reasonably well-known young adult author by the way and the book didn’t leave much of an impression on me.
That’s not to say it was a bad book, I just didn’t connect with it emotionally. 13 Little Blue Envelopes is the story of Virginia (‘Ginny’) Blackstock who goes on an adventure journey more or less ordered by her aunt, who has passed away. Her aunt left her 13 blue envelopes with instructions for the journey and Ginny, who is 17, decides to take her aunt up on this adventure.
Ginny ends up traveling through Europe, for instance London, Scotland, Amsterdam, Paris, and Greece. The fact that a 17-year old would be allowed to do that and would actually do that was already a big stretch for me. Being European, the locations weren’t that special to me, but I guess that would be different for American young adults for instance. The various ‘exotic’ places Ginny visits do make for an original setting, even if they are described in clichés.
My biggest issue was with first of all with Ginny’s character, whom I never emotionally connected with. I was never ‘pulled in’ into the story and I really didn’t care all that much about what happened to her. Then there was the on-and-off again relationship with Keith, who didn’t impress me much as boyfriend material, and the general lack of direction of the book. It may be a matter of personal preference, but I like the ‘why’s’ a little more explicit. I didn’t understand the point of various stops in Ginny’s journey (and nether did she herself for that matter) and although it felt as if a lot happened around her and to her, not much happened in her. Yes, she changes, but not to the point where I thought it was all that interesting.
Then throw in a little too many stereotypes and coincidences (like Keith who happens to have a concert in a country Ginny travels to, not once but twice) and all in all it was just a little too much for me to make it believable. There are many loose ends at the end of the story, which is I guess why the author wrote a sequel called The Last Blue Envelope.
All in all I wouldn’t recommend it to teens, there’s really nothing much to learn from this book and there are some horrific examples of stupid conduct (‘invite a complete stranger for coffee’ – seriously, that’s what we want 17-year olds to do in a foreign country?) and some inappropriate language.