A headless body of a girl in a black tank top with the title of book on her shirt standing in front of a blue envelope background

About the Book

Title: 13 Little Blue Envelopes (Little Blue Envelope #1)
Published: 2010

BFF Charm: Yay!
Talky Talk: Straight Up
Bonus Factors: Eurotrip, Harrods, Normal Names
Relationship Status: My Favorite Travel Buddy!

The Deal:

Ginny Blackstone is your typical 17-year-old girl. She doesn’t have any major hang-ups, except that she’s kind of, um . . . dull. Okay, not DULL. Just careful. Which, I mean, it’s a pretty good idea, because 17-year-old girls who aren’t careful sometimes turn into 18-year-old mommas. But Ginny is, like, REALLY CAREFUL. She’s not exactly a risk-taker, ya know?

But, she has a kooky, artistic aunt named Peg, who was always Ginny’s favorite person, when she was around, which wasn’t often (kooky!). And Peg, even though she’s now deceased, is still looking out for Ginny’s best interests. More particularly, the best interest of having some fun!

Ginny gets a letter, with four blue envelopes inside. Each envelope contains a rule for the trip that Aunt Peg wants her to take. Rule #1: You may only bring what fits in a backpack. Rule #2: No journals, no foreign language books, no Lonely Planets. Rule #3: No credit card. No traveler’s checks. No money but what comes in the envelope. Rule #4: No cell phone, no computer, no iPhone.

Ginny’s trip takes her to London, then to Edinburgh; to Paris and then Amsterdam and Greece. Along the way she meets Richard, Peg’s BFF, and Keith, a vagabond actor/director/writer/thief, plus a variety of other people. She learns about the world, learns about her Aunt Peg, and learns about herself. And more importantly? She learns to have fun.

BFF Charm: Yay!

Yay BFF Charm

Aw, I had a soft spot for Ginny. Even though she irked me at times (um, HELLO?! Your awesome artist aunt sends you on a trip to Europe and you’re COMPLAINING? You need to check yoself before you wreck yoself, Ginny!), I totally connected with her fish-out-of-water feelings. But Ginny was so sweet and earnest, and really did her best to fulfill Peg’s dreams for her. Plus, once she went for it, she WENT for it. Holla, Ginny! Way to Eurotrip in style!

Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Ginny meets Keith, indirectly, by following one of the rules from a blue envelope. And because he’s everything Ginny’s not–adventurous, creative, devil-may-care, Ginny, of course, falls for him hard. (As did I! Call me, Keith!) Plus, since theirs is a Travel Relationship*, they both know there’s a limited amount of time, which makes every pang and every joy that much greater.

Actually, the only thing that didn’t ring true in this whole book – as fantastical and adventurous as it is – is Keith and Ginny’s relationship at the end. Only because, in my vast studies of the dating culture of British people, it’s not usually a “let’s be friends, see you later” type response. It’s more of a “let’s be boyfriend and girlfriend immediately! And spend every minute together! Until we break up in two weeks’ time! And then we’ll get pissed down the pub and whinge about it for a good week before finding a new boyfriend/girlfriend!”

*What’s a Travel Relationship, you ask? That’s a relationship in which you meet someone while travelling, or living abroad for a semester. You meet-cute, usually at some quaint cafe or public park, start talking about all the places you’ve been or want to see, and then an hour later, you think to yourself, “Crap! WHY? WHY CAN’T THIS PERSON LIVE IN MY HOMETOWN?” (answer: because it wouldn’t be as much fun then.) And then you proceed to spend the next week/month/semester spending all of your time with this person, falling quickly head over heels, and then having to say goodbye, resulting in emo tears at the airport gate, which garners pitying looks from the security checkpoint people. And then you fly home, with nothing to remind you of your Travel Boyfriend or Girlfriend but the STDs. Um. Or so I’ve been told.

Talky Talk: Straight Up

Maureen Johnson has that sort of enviable, natural style that never feels forced or fake. Ginny talks like a 17-year-old. Keith talks like a real British teenager (i.e., not like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. ‘ello, guvnah!). It grounds the more fantastical elements of the book (i.e., your dead aunt is sending you on a scavenger hunt around Europe), which in turn makes everything more believable.

Bonus Factor: Eurotrip!

Skyline of Paris France with Eiffel Tower in back

HOLLA I LOVE EUROPE. Well, I love the United Kingdom, anyway, and I’m pretty sure I would love the rest of Europe, if I had been there. (Holla at me, Italy and France! Let’s enjoy some beer together, Germany! Hey, Czech Republic, I know how to do the chicken dance!)

And a lot of this book was totally a flashback memory for me. Which is awesome, because I miss the UK when I leave it, like tiny little holes are being cut out of my heart.

HOWEVER. One part of this book neglected a VERY IMPORTANT MESSAGE. So, Ginny and Keith go to Edinburgh, right? And they hang out on the gorgeous little streets, and see castles and, even though they don’t mention it, I’m sure they wonder what the hell is up with that one half-finished tower block on the hill next to the sea. But! At no point does Maureen Johnson warn her readers of THE TERROR OF EDINBURGH. And that is the Sir Walter Scott memorial. I can’t even . . . just read the blog link. I can’t bring myself to talk about it again!

(P.S. While I am on the subject of European Vacations, um, why no mention of food, Maureen Johnson?)

Bonus Factor: Harrods

The outside of the Harrods store in London.

HARRODS!! Richard (Aunt Peg’s BFF and Ginny’s rescuer) works in Harrods, which officially makes him THE LUCKIEST PERSON EVER. Okay, I know it’s a cliche, but I HEART HARRODS. I mean, you guys. Have you BEEN to the Food Hall? Have you SEEN the cheese section?? It’s AMAZING.

Harrods is awesome, with great Christmas decorations and fancy linens I could never afford, and posh jewelry. And it hasTHE CRAZIEST THING I HAVE EVER SEEN, which is the Princess Diana and Dodi al-Fayed memorial, which is located on the landing next to the escalators, in a room that is decorated like an Egyptian tomb. I mean, WHAT IS THAT. (Well, I know what it is, and I even know why it is – Dodi’s father owns Harrods – BUT STILL.)

Bonus Factor: Normal Names!!

Um, Keith? Richard? Peg? THESE NAMES ARE TOTALLY NORMAL. Even Ginny is just short for Virginia, plus, I work with a lady named Ginny, so I consider it a normal name as well. MAUREEN JOHNSON, THANK YOU. Because of your important work restoring normal names to the YA-sphere, I am bestowing on you this prestigious honor, The Sarah Jane Smith Award for Normal Names!

(As a recipient of this award, you will get your very own Sonic Screwdriver. You may choose your delivery boy: the Ninth, Tenth or Eleventh Doctor.)

Relationship Status: My Favorite Travel Buddy!

You know how your favorite travel buddies may not be the people you see all the time? My favorite travel buddies are flung across the globe (though one is only a 5 hour drive away), but when we get together, we just fall right into sync. We have our travel rhythm all worked out: when to shop, when to sight-see, when to leave each other alone for a few hours. We get lost together, go on adventures together, laugh and cry and do crazy things together. And even though I don’t see them often, the few weeks out of the year we spend together are my favorite times.

This book is a lot like some of my favorite travel buddies! It was fun and light-hearted, but had moments of angst and grief, and took me on a trip to all sorts of places! I loved travelling with it and someday, when I’m feeling sad and lonely, I know I can pick it back up and go on another adventure.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from HarperCollins Publishers. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). 13 Little Blue Envelopes is available now.

Erin is loud, foul-mouthed, an unrepentant lover of trashy movies and believes that champagne should be an every day drink.