Sunday, December 27, 2020

Flashbacklist- 13 Little Blue Envelopes

Johnson, Maureen. 13 Little Blue Envelopes
August 23rd 2005 by HarperTeen
Personal Copy

Ginny's artistic, beloved aunt Peg moved away from the US suddenly, and passed away unexpectedly. When Ginny receives a packet from London, she is surprised to find a letter from her aunt, thirteen blue envelopes, and directions to do certain things, and then open a succession of envelopes. First, she heads to London with just a backpack, no electronics, and the address of a stranger. This turns out to be the home of Richard, who works at Harrods Department Store. His relationship with Peg is unclear, but Peg lived in his apartment. Ginny is instructed to give away $500 to an artist, and decides on Keith, who is performing an odd play. She buys multiple tickets, then realizes that no one will see him perform, and has to try to give away the tickets. She and Keith fall into an odd friendship, and when Ginny has to travel to Scotland to visit an artist mentor of her aunt's, he goes with her. Soon, though, Ginny has to resume her travels, going to Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and eventually Greece. There, she runs into some problems that lead her to contact Richard to help her get back to London. There, one mystery about her aunt's art and legacy remains. Ginny learns not only about her aunt, but about herself. 
Strengths: I read this just after I returned from a trip to London in 2005, and the details about traveling around Europe are so exquisite that I bought a copy for myself, which I rarely do. This is definitely a fantastic book for armchair traveling. I loved the path on which her aunt sent her, and the variety of tasks and visits she had to do. Surprisingly, the level of technology Ginny has access to holds up really well-- since she isn't allowed to carry it with her, she has to rely on internet cafes, which is the way many people still travel fifteen years later. Richard is a sad but wonderful character, and there are some funny things, like the family in Copenhagen Ginny travels around with, and Keith's friends and plays. The absolute best part of this is Ginny and her emotions-- she misses her aunt and wants to know more about her, she's brave enough to travel by herself but also a bit apprehensive, and she is able to realize that while her aunt was a complicated person with her own agenda, she really loved Ginny. There is an event in Greece (which I don't want to spoil) which was upsetting, but which still makes sense. It also makes sense that Johnson picked up the story again in The Last Little Blue Envelope (2011), which I will probably have to reread as well. My library has FIVE copies of this that are all more glue and tape than original book. This story was instrumental in making my daughters the kind of fearless traveler that I am NOT; Picky Reader traveled to Ireland to study by herself, and took trips to both Greece and Rome, partly motivated by her memories of this book. 
Weaknesses: The partial romance with Keith has never connected with me, somehow. It was certainly realistically done, but I wanted something more like the movie Before Sunrise.
What I really think: This is still available in hardcover from Follett, and I think it wise if I buy at least two more copies. It was a nice surprise to have a book I loved so much hold up so well. 

And look! Harpercollins is reissuing this in a new paperback!
 Ms. Yingling

1 comment:

  1. I liked this book because it reminded me of one with a similar theme I loved as a child, Phyllis Whitney's Mystery on the Isle of Skye. I never really got into Whitney's adult mysteries, gothics and historicals, but her juvenile mysteries were good fun. I didn't know there was another book about Ginny; I will have to take a look.