I kind of already thought I’d read this one, but when I was at a conference last year (with Maureen Johnson in attendance), I definitely realized I hadn’t. Maureen Johnson is one of the people you meet, and then just kind of want to attach yourself too. She is one snarky, hilarious, intelligent individual. I was lucky enough to be a part of the audience for a game show she was hosting, where all the contestants were YA writers (like John Green and Stephanie Perkins). I’m pretty sure it was one of the funniest moments of my life.
Any way, I’ve read other books by Maureen Johnson (including The Name of our Star), and have loved them, so I knew I would pretty much love this book too. It has such a fantastic contemporary YA storyline. It’s all about Ginny growing up, coming to terms with her favorite aunt’s sudden death, and learning to branch out of her normal, more reserved self.
Not long after Ginny’s aunt dies, she receives a package from her in the mail. The package is made up of 13 blue envelopes (each one numbered). The first letter includes 1,000 dollars cash and the demand of Ginny to buy a plane ticket and head for England. There’s also a set of rules (things like no technology, just one backpack allowed, and no camera). It’s summer so Ginny has the time to do this. What kind of crazy aunt sends their niece on such a weird journey, after their death?
Ginny’s aunt wasn’t crazy per se. She was odd. In most of the letters, she refers to herself as Ginny’s runaway aunt. She never really stayed anywhere long. She definitely was a believer in living her life to her fullest. She traveled, painted, worked all manor of interesting jobs, and loved to try on extravagant clothes she could never afford. This lady has been homeless, has lived in a café (literally), has had a job in the Empire State building, has been all over the world, and just sounds like one amazing character. And besides being amazing and interesting, this aunt is the only one who seems to get Ginny. She, as Ginny says, makes Ginny interesting. She gets Ginny to try things and branch out of the norm in most situations.
Ginny can’t open the next envelope until she’s completed the task on the first. She’s given tasks to do all across Europe. She donates to an artist in England, meets her aunt’s muse in Scotland, goes on a date with a Roman boy in Italy, etc. Each task is fun, and somewhat out of the ordinary, and some are definitely harder than others. Though, Ginny follows all the rules.
Everything goes down hill after a certain event on the beach in Greece. However, Ginny has a new group of friends, a sort of British boyfriend, and a loving family to call her own by the time everything is through. And all of her crazy experiences, along with some amazing art, allow her to get through it all.
This book has all the good things that make a wonderful YA contemporary: international travel, cute boys, family drama, grief, and growing up. The characters all stand out in exceptional ways. The settings for all of Ginny’s tasks were fascinating. I loved getting into all the artsy culture of places. And it was so much fun watching Ginny learn to do new things.
The only character I wasn’t in love with was Ginny. She was kind of boring. I loved that she grew throughout the novel. But, I never really got to learn about her. What was her favorite food (and why was she never hungry???? Seriously, the book spoke of her not being hungry so many times…And I was like, French bread! Italian pastries! Crepes! Etc. etc.) If she seriously never ate, she’d be so much crankier. Where did she want to travel to the most? What was she studying in school? What books did she read? What did she like to do for fun? I never really got to learn any of these things. Instead, I just sort of learned that she was rather rigid and afraid to try things. And that’s fine. Not all YA main characters need to be brave. I just wanted more about who she was and what she liked to do (outside of her aunt).
I did read this book pretty much in one sitting (in a waiting room, waiting for my dad). It is so much fun! I felt like I really was going to all the places Ginny got to go to. I loved all the scenes that took place in England. I even loved the somewhat heart-breaking scene in Greece. There were so many of those awkward teen moments that only someone who really gets teens can write. I loved Maureen Johnson’s opinions about tourism in general, and how Ginny and her aunt classified themselves above it all. I give this one a 9/10. And I seriously am thinking about ordering the sequel right now, as soon as I post this.