Sunday, October 13, 2013

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

Little Blue Envelopes #1
Published September 2006 by Harper Collins (first published 2005)
Paperback, 317 pages
Borrowed from my dear friend, Maggie -- thanks!

13 Little Blue Envelopes follows the story of Ginny as she completes the tasks from the 13 mysterious letters her dead aunt left behind. They send her all over Europe in a quest that ultimately helps Ginny get in touch with herself and her aunt.

I really liked this book the first time I read it. You know, I love reading about travelling in books and 13 Little Blue Envelopes had a TON of travelling and I appreciated that. I still do, but now I'm not satisfied with just a lot of travelling. I want strong writing and characters and good plot as well and unfortunately, this book did not bring it in those categories.

For starters, the third-person narrator does the book no favours. In general, I'm not a huge fan of third-person narrators. I think they tend to make stories very dull because I can't relate or put myself in the shoes of the character. Sometimes they do enhance the novel but sadly, this book was not the case. I just felt the writing was so stiff and monotone. I swear, I was asleep for most of this book than I was awake. And it certainly did not help that Ginny had absolutely no personality whatsoever. I wasn't sure if she was just a robot going through the actions of opening the envelopes and completing the tasks or if she was actually thinking it through. 

Something else I really had trouble with were the transitions! In this book, Ginny does do quite a bit of jumping around and it's understandable that the fluidity of the book may not always be as smooth as I would like it to be. Being a student and an occasional writer, I know how hard it is to be able to link segments in a relevant way without making it obvious you're transitioning. It's tough and it's something that takes a lot of practice. But I found in this book, there were no transitions between some of the envelopes. One scene that comes to mind is when Ginny learns her aunt is sending her to Rome. It's just the envelope and then the next chapter, appropriately titled 'The Road to Rome', which opens with Ginny on a train to Rome. After reading that, I just felt like I needed to say, hold up because one second she's in Scotland arguing with Keith and the next, she's in Rome? It kind of goes like this for the rest of the book and it's so confusing for me because my brain just wants everything to be taken step by step - no jumps or leaps. I understand that there is a lot of ground to cover in this book and if Johnson were to explain everything, 13 Little Blue Envelopes would be like 254 pages longer but still, I can't help but be distracted by the velocity at which material is covered in this book, if that makes sense.

The vast number of secondary characters in this book also left me scratching my head. This was actually one of the issues I had with this book the first time I read it. There were so many characters that I honestly could not keep track of who was who. I don't mind large casts but I prefer smaller casts in books. 

However, I did love the settings in this book. Even though we weren't in each country for very long, Johnson did a wonderful job bringing life and personality to each city. That's the exact thing I look for in stories with travel and she executed it perfectly.

Before I wrap up (because I know I'm talking a lot), I would like to talk about something that others had an issue with in this book and that is the fact that Ginny's parents are never once mentioned in this book. Since she's going on such a huge trip, shouldn't we hear at least some of what her parents had to say? In all honesty, I didn't find this to be a big problem for me. One of the reasons I read books is for escapism and even in a contemporary novel, I don't mind if there's a level of disbelief. In fact, I welcome it! It was absolutely necessary in this book to not mention the parents if Ginny were to go on this big adventure by herself and I totally understand and accept that.

13 Little Blue Envelopes has a great premise and lots of potential to be great but unfortunately, the poor execution prevented that. I had qualms about the writing as well as the main character, Ginny who seemed very one-dimensional to me. With the lacklustre writing and characters, the only thing 13 Little Blue Envelopes had going for itself was the plot which admittedly, got tired after a while. However, the letters and the travelling were still really interesting! And while I don't approve of Keith's bad boy-ness (that was rather random, actually), the chemistry between Ginny and Keith was great and I can't wait to see where it will go in the next book (even though I already know)!

people who are looking for a light contemporary read and love travelling and scavenger hunts. If you enjoyed the Suite Scarlett books, you might like this series.

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