Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Book Review: 13 Little Blue Envelopes

Rating: 2/5
★★

As you may or may not know, last week I brought home quite a haul of books from the library, thus launching what I deem this summer to be The Summer of Reading.  I've been going through book after book, all the while trying to gain the motivation to write a book review in between.  Now, my first review (of many this summer!) is on the YA novel, 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson. I was really excited to read this book, 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, having first read it when I was in my early teens and having fondly enjoyed the adventure it took me on.  I was eager to experience a deep sense of nostalgia through reading this again... 

  The story revolves around Ginny as she fulfills her aunt Peg's final wishes for her niece to take risks, go on adventures, and discover herself as well as what makes life beautiful... all guided through 13 letters written by Aunt Peg, sealed in (you guessed it) 13 little blue envelopes, and sent to Ginny after her death. With every envelope that Ginny opens, she finds herself thrust into a new task to complete, and a new experience waiting for her. While this was a great summer read full of travel to make any wanderlust reader melt, and while I did enjoy experiencing a dose of nostalgia ... this book was still a bit of a letdown for me.  Reading this book the first time in my teens, I was taken away by the adventure aspect combined with the bitter-sweetness of Ginny following the very path that her aunt did in her travels throughout her life, leading up to her death, all through the guidance of her handwritten letters.  I easily marked this book as a favorite.  With this second time around though - whether it's because I'm much more critical now, or my taste has changed, or even that I've simply grown up since the last read - I found that this novel really struggled with the believability factor and was ultimately problematic in a number of ways.

 Perhaps the most glaring problem of the story is that everything seems to fall into place much too easily.  Ginny receives these letters from her aunt Peg, who she hasn't seen in years, who was notoriously disorganized, flighty, and not one for conventional ways, and who Ginny's mother (sister to Peg) had serious issues with for these reasons. That being said: without knowing anything about this trip (having only opened the first envelope), not knowing where Ginny would end up in her travels, how she would have access to money, or where she would stay throughout this trip, or even knowing how long this trip would last, which has all been planned by an unpredictable aunt who is now deceased... how on Earth did Ginny's parents allow her to go on this trip by herself?!  Keep in mind, Ginny's still a teenager.  They just allowed her to gallivant through Europe by herself on this mysterious journey?  There's just too much of that that is too far-fetched and unbelievable to ignore.  Supposedly, Ginny had to do "some convincing" to get her parents to agree, but even then, we the readers aren't given access to this conversation, so we have no way of knowing what that conversation with her parents looked like - perhaps out of convenience because even the author realized how hard this would be to believe and wanted to avoid it.  After all, if Ginny's parents had known beforehand that their daughter would end up just barely being able to find a place to stay at times, getting in trouble with the French police, being pressured into having sex by some strange Italian guy who invited her back to his place and misled her into believing they wouldn't be alone, among other incidents... odds are they wouldn't have even dared let her set foot across the border.  This brings me to the other major issue of the story: WHERE ARE HER PARENTS?  Not only is Ginny completely unchaperoned throughout her journey, but her parents are virtually nonexistent through the whole thing!  They're mentioned once, maybe a couple of times, in the entire novel.  Her mother is brought up in order to establish her relationship with her sister/Aunt Peg, and together her parents are brought up again as Ginny notes how she had to convince them to allow her to go on this trip to begin with.  Other than that, it's like her parents don't exist and only pop up when it's convenient for the plot.  Even when Ginny is occasionally able to write back home, she writes her best friend to gush about boy problems over her own mother to reassure her that she's alright.  Really.  She doesn't write her parents once in the whole novel.  I mean, I know it's YA Lit and that protagonists are expected to gush about their crushes from time to time.  And sure, emailing your mom to check in like a responsible teen would probably kill the whole mood, but come on!  We have to have some believability here.

 Okay, but while we're on the topic of crushes, let's talk about Ginny's main love interest, Keith: he's creepy, immature, and seems like he's only there as a forced love interest who pops in from time to time.  Ginny meets Keith when she attends his play in London - her first stop in her journey.  She watches him perform and doesn't seem to give anything away to suggest she sees him as anything more.  Sure, she gets tongue tied when he sits down next to her after the show and talks her up, but she could've just been shy and awkward around boys, or she didn't want to reveal Aunt Peg's mission for her when Keith grills her about why she attended his show.  But the next thing you know, Ginny's writing to her best friend, saying, "I THINK I'M IN LOVE!" (more or less).  Really?  When did that happen?  And how do you fall in love with someone just from watching them perform a bad play?  Nonetheless, Keith drops everything and decides to accompany Ginny on her adventures.  Okay, let's get to the part where he's creepy and immature:

1) In one of Aunt Peg's letters, she tells Ginny to visit an artist friend of hers, Mari.  At one point, Mari tells Ginny to take off her shirt so she can draw a large tattoo on her (needless to say, Aunt Peg had some eccentric friends).  While Ginny is standing there in just her bra, Keith very deliberately refuses to avert his eyes - ugh!

2) Later, when Ginny and Keith leave Mari's, Keith reveals that he stole a little toy while they were there.  Understandably, Ginny tells him that what he did was wrong and that he needs to go back and return it.  Keith at first fails to take her seriously, and then eventually gets furious at her when she persists, and chucks the toy like a toddler throwing a tantrum, and then blows her off to catch a bus.  Seriously, why does she like this guy?!

3) Ginny soon leaves the U.K. as another envelope takes her to Paris... and somehow Keith ends up following her and finding her there.  Even worse, he has the audacity to call it "fate" bringing them together again (ahem, stalking). With his sizing her up at an inappropriate moment, not taking her seriously, exhibiting immaturity and lashing out at her when she doesn't join him, and showing serious overbearing, clingy behavior that definitely borders on stalking, Keith is nothing more than a soft YA version of Christian Grey.  And his role in general just seems random, as he only pops up every now and then when Ginny needs a romantic filler in her adventure, and by the end of the novel there doesn't seem to be any sort of resolution or outcome with their relationship.  What I found most upsetting about Keith's role in the novel though is that, out of all of the people Ginny meets on her journey, so much of the novel seems to revolve around him as the most important and influential character, even beating out Richard, who I personally believe should've had a much larger role in the plot than he did and should've been at the very top in terms of importance.  Keith, a guy who had absolutely no ties with Aunt Peg (who this journey is all about, really) and virtually doesn't matter in any way other than the fact that he's Ginny's supposed love interest... he has more space in the novel than Richard, who was there in the last months of Aunt Peg's life, who took care of her, who provided her with the last home where she would spend the remainder of her days before her death.  You would think Ginny would have so many questions to ask him, so much that she'd want to know in order to gain closure, or at least that she'd form some sort of bond with him through their mutual connection to Aunt Peg.  But Ginny doesn't seem to care much at all about Richard or wanting to know more about Aunt Peg, instead forming an instant bond with a loser guy and spending half the novel thinking about him and gushing about how much she wants to see him.  That was the ultimate disappointment for me and really made the novel superficial at times rather than allowing it its full potential that it could've had.

All in all, it was fun to go back and read this book once again, and there were times when I really enjoyed it.  But alas, not all nostalgia reads are perfect the second time around. I hope you enjoyed this lengthy, honest review!  Keep your eye out for, hopefully, more reviews coming up!

Carry on and keep reading,
x Danielle

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