13 Little Blue Envelopes is the story of american teenager Ginny who has recently learned that her slightly wacky, artist aunt has died of cancer. The begins when Ginny receives an envelope from her aunt containing a letter with rules and instructions and $1000 cash. Shy, quiet Ginny, who prefers to go unnoticed is being sent on a quest through Europe, she is not allowed to bring any of her own money, or any electrical devices.
No computer, no phone, no camera, no money. Just herself, a backpack, and 13 little blue envelopes full of instructions.
What I really loved about this book is that it is clear from the beginning that Aunt Peg wants Ginny to go on this adventure to help her break out of her shell, to help her discover herself. Ginny wants to go on the adventure simply to feel close to her aunt. These two motivations, not that they’re the only ones, shape the whole book and I think without them, its very easy to get annoyed with the characters.
Ginny is basically on an all expense paid trip through Europe but she doesn’t really care. She doesn’t go out of her way to see or do things, she just does what each letter tells her to so that she can get to the next one, in the desperate and ultimately useless hope, that at the end her beloved, crazy aunt will be waiting for her.
Peg doesn’t want Ginny to make the same mistakes she has. And although they are both very different people, outwardly, it is clear that they have both been running from things all their lives.
Another thing I loved about the book, and that I think is a terrific example of Maureen’s ability to write great characters, is how alive Aunt Peg was. Despite being a fictional character that had died before the beginning of the story, the letters, and Ginny’s memories of her make her a real person. And we see her go through a journey, a self-discovery along with Ginny.
Now, I don’t want to ruin too much, but, well, you never get to see the 13th envelope. Ginny never gets to see it. And I really like that. It leaves Ginny to discover her own finish, her own ending. Maureen has said that we will get to see the 13th envelope in the sequel and I’m unsure how I feel about this. I like that it’s a mystery. That Ginny can make it whatever she wants it to be.
I haven’t said anything about the males in this story, and be assured there is a little romance for both of our female leads, but it happens to the side. It isn’t the main focus. In fact I think the only thing I disliked about this book was that we didn’t get to see more of Keith, the kilt-wearing playwrite who stared in Starbucks: The Musical.
You should check out Maureen Johnson’s blog, it is hilarious and informative about the world of publishing and writing. And, of course, lists all of her books, all of which should be read.