This book suffers from a serious case of “help, I’m trapped in the wrong cover!” To me it looks like what I’d call a “pink book”: something I could get away with as guilty-pleasure summer reading, but not recommending to a friend. Girly cover art notwithstanding, this is some pretty solid teen fiction.
It starts out with shy, 17-year-old Ginny’s receiving – you guessed it – thirteen little blue envelopes courtesy of her recently deceased Aunt Peg. Turns out, before she up and left behind her entire family without warning, and before she very rudely died a drawn-out death without so much as letting them know, Aunt Peg had some pretty amazing adventures being a homeless-drifter-artist in Europe. As a sort of final goodbye, Peg sets up a 13-part cross-Europe scavenger hunt for her niece. (You know, instead of a card, or a phone call.)
The journey begins in London, where Ginny’s task is to become a “mysterious benefactor” to an artist of her choosing. Enter hunky ginger Keith, the first of many outlandish characters Ginny is about to get herself mixed up with. From there they head out to Scotland and meet another free-spirited artist reminiscent of her beloved aunt. This visit results in a tryst with the handsome bloke she picked up in London, and they end up parting ways. Thereafter Ginny finds herself traipsing through various cities, each with its own tasks and colorful individuals. She kisses the ridiculous Beppe in Rome, and tags along with a truly zany family in Amsterdam. She finds solace on a houseboat, and fast friends in Denmark. Along the way, Ginny is forced into new scenarios, slowly losing her shyness, gaining self-confidence, and realizing the importance of seizing the day. There’s a bit of romance and mystery thrown in, and many LOLs.
But I have my criticisms. As one reviewer astutely pointed out, this book also suffers from a serious case of “DPS” (Disappearing Parent Syndrome). What parents let their lone seventeen year old daughter jet off to Europe on a moment’s notice?! Did I mention that Ginny isn’t allowed to call home? Or that she’s not allowed to open the envelopes and thus find out where she’s headed to next unless she’s finished the task in the one prior? It’s all a bit far-fetched. Still, I have to applaud Johnson’s talent as a writer – and her flair for odd details and personality quirks that make the far-fetched believable. (Why would there be a pineapple on the tube in London? I don’t know, but it just happens to be the sort of odd-ball thing you notice when travelling alone!) I laughed, I nearly cried, and I learned things along with Ginny. If you’re a young woman traveler, you’ll particularly enjoy this one – I’d give ‘er a good 3.5 out of 5. I’m excited to read the sequel, The Last Little Blue Envelope.