Rule #1: You may bring only what fits in your backpack.
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, traveler’s checks, etc.
Rule #4: No electronic crutches. This means no laptop, no cell phone, no music, and no camera.
The rules were straightforward, sent to Ginny Blackstone in the first of thirteen letters from her eccentric Aunt Peg. Ginny is used to her aunt’s whims and willing to play along because Aunt Peg is the only person in the world who can make Ginny seem interesting–even if it is just by association.
The letters will take Ginny to England and across Europe on an adventure that starts in the hope of understanding her wayward aunt. Along the way she’ll get a behind-the-scenes tour of Harrod’s from one of the store’s employees, meet artist/sometimes-thief Keith Dobson, and encounter youth hostels of various ilks. She will also karaoke. At the end of the summer, Ginny might discover she’s more interesting than she thought–all because of those 13 Little Blue Envelopes (2005) by Maureen Johnson.
Broken into chapters and separate headings for each envelope, this is a fast read that still has a lot of depth. The cover, along with some of Johnson’s other covers, is sometimes slammed for having a semi-headless, midriff-bearing girl on the cover. All the same, I love it. Not so much because it’s indicative of the story but of the novel’s overall vibe.
Equal parts travelogue, comedy, and Bildungsroman 13 Little Blue Envelopes is jam-packed with excitement and appeal. It’s also a book about an ordinary girl discovering that sometimes just being herself can be extraordinary enough. Ginny is a persistent, resilient narrator that readers will be cheering for throughout this (sometimes) madcap novel.
Johnson is also working on a sequel called The Last Little Blue Envelope with a projected publication date in 2011.
Possible Pairings: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Girl Overboard by Justina Chen, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Howard’s End by E. M. Forster, Two Summers by Aimee Friedman, Kitty Kitty by Michele Jaffe, Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altedbrando, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin