Maureen Johnson is the sort of person that every young adult – and adult too – should look up to, not only for her often hilarious take on life, the universe and everything, but because she is smart and intelligent and is really good at showing people what is right and wrong about the world, frequently reminding us of issues of inequality and injustice that we all should be fighting. Oh, and she’s a pretty good writer too.
13 Little Blue Envelopes tells the tale of Ginny, the legacy that her slightly whack-a-doodle aunt has left her, and Ginny’s version of fulfilling it. In the first envelope, Aunt Peg tells Ginny to buy a ticket to England. In the second are instructions of where to go once she arrives there, which turns out to be the slightly unkempt flat of a slightly ruffled Englishman, Richard. The third envelope leads Ginny to kooky playwright Keith. She can only open an envelope once she’s completed the task set out in the previous one, and as the opened envelopes pile up, Ginny’s adventure gains pace and speed and the days merge together as she moves from a relatively sedate trip to Scotland to a mad dash through Europe that ends in disaster. Or does it?
Along the way Ginny meets new people, gets tangled up in other people’s affairs, sees a million new things, pushes her boundaries, and ultimately learns a bunch of new stuff about her aunt and – both gradually and all in one big rush – begins to come to terms with her grief. There are revelations and kisses, boats and trains, new friends and new family, sunrises and sunsets, twists and turns, rushes and rambles, and a whole lot of art.
13 Little Blue Envelopes is the perfect summery read for younger teens who are either waiting for or are already in the midst of the young flush of first love. It's pacey and quirky and has a hint of the fairytale, especially when it comes to Aunt Peg’s secret tower workroom. It wasn’t quite as good as I was hoping it would be – I didn’t feel that it was as sharp as Sarah Dessen’s books, for example, and I didn’t find it as engaging as Johnson’s more sinister and more sophisticated Shades of London series, but really that just makes it all the more perfect for the slightly younger teen audience. And I’m definitely planning to try The Key to the Golden Firebird, Johnson’s first book to be published, but which has only just become available in the UK. Oh, and The Last Little Blue Envelope too – because obviously I’ve got to find out what happens next...