Contemporary Realistic Fiction · Review · Young Adult

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

First Edition. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. 323 pp. US $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-054141-5.

Genres: Realistic fiction, Romance, Young Adult, Chick Lit

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen JohnsonSynopsis from Inside Front Cover:

Inside little blue envelope 1 are $1,000 and instructions to buy a plane ticket.

In envelope 2 are directions to a specific London flat.

The note in envelope 3 tells Ginny: Find a starving artist.

Because of envelope 4, Ginny and her artist, a playwright/thief/bloke-about-town called Keith, go to Scotland together, with somewhat disastrous—though utterly romantic—results. Ginny isn’t sure she’ll see Keith again, and definitely doesn’t know what to think about him.

Could the answer be in the envelopes?

Ginny doesn’t know it, but adventures in Rome and Paris are in envelopes 6 and 8. The rules are that she has to open one at a time, in order, so perhaps it isn’t surprising that she discovers things about her life and love one by one. Everything about Ginny will change this summer, and it’s all because of 13 little blue envelopes.


In the first book of The Blue Envelopes, Ginny received a letter in a little blue envelope from her recently deceased, artsy aunt. The letter promises adventure through a childhood game taken literally. This game played with her aunt hints that she will find answers about her aunt’s life … or her aunt is trying to teach her something. Ginny follows each letter in the 13 Little Blue Envelopes to find adventure and learn about her “Runaway Aunt’s” life after New York.

I read this novel for the Around the World 2016 challenge. It also counts toward the Banned Books Challenge because John Green’s 2014 blog post listed 13 Little Blue Envelopes, by Maureen Johnson, as a challenged book in Strasburg, Colorado. I have wanted to read this book since I saw it on Book Outlet over the summer, but I decided to borrow it from the library. Now I wish I had bought it … and its sequel.

I love the premise: send your niece on a wild goose chase with $1,000 and thirteen envelopes that have to be opened in order. The adventure and the mystery ensure that this would be a summer to remember. As much as I want to experience the adventures Ginny went on, I want to do what her aunt did. If I had enough money, I would send at least one of my nieces on this quest.

The Runaway Aunt acknowledges that her niece could completely ignore her instructions:

“You are about to go to England with no idea of what’s in store for you. Your path, your instructions, are in these envelopes. Here’s the catch: You may only open them one at a time and only once you’ve completed the task in each letter. I am relying on your honesty—you could open them all now, and I’d certainly never know. But I’m serious, Gin. It won’t work unless you open them exactly as I said.” (21)

This acknowledgement and warning appeals to my sense of realism. Knowing that the aunt’s lifestyle is considered crazy and that the whole quest is crazy, Aunt Peg ensured that her niece knew the whole trip is for her benefit. This blurb made the “crazy aunt” more real and believable.

As for the other characters, Ginny and Aunt Peg are the only round characters. Aunt Peg’s development occurs mostly through the letters. Ginny changes from each letter’s instruction and from what she learns about her aunt through her travels. She also grieves through this journey.

With flat characters, I found it odd that Ginny’s parents seem unconcerned about where she is or what she is doing over the summer. They are mentioned a couple of times, but Ginny does not think about them in relation to her trip. Her parents do not have to be helicopter parents, but I expected some concern over her summer adventure, especially since Peg orchestrated this. But parental involvement may be unnecessary to the plot and character development.

For all of the travel, I am surprised at the great detail Johnson included for each location. The locations are vivid, and it’s not the vivid I would expect from a local. The detail was perfect for a tourist’s perspective.

On the subject of detail, I liked the format of the letters. Each letter is defined by a box to show its letter appearance. The font is Courier New or something similar. These enhance the idea that these were in little blue envelopes.

Two themes I found are taking risks and faith. One theme of this book is to take risks because it might leave you with good memories and experiences. The first risk Ginny takes is to follow her aunt’s instructions in the letters, starting with leaving for Europe with no electronic communication to the States. It is risky to go anywhere without alerting someone to the fact. But Ginny meets some awesome people during her adventures. Another theme, largely encompassed in taking risks, is to have faith. Ginny has to have faith that her aunt’s scheming will turn out all right for her.

Maureen Johnson’s 13 Little Blue Envelopes is an excellent book for those who like reading realistic fiction, chick lit or books involving travel. As someone who likes to read primarily fantasy, I think it appeals to those who love fantasy as well—for the adventure if nothing else.

Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

Challenges: Around the World 2016: One Book for Each Continent, One Book for Each Ocean, Books Set in Capital Cities, Books Set in at Least 5 Different Places, Books Set in 2 Places from Different Continents, A to Z Challenge, Visit a Certain Number of Countries; Banned Books Challenge 2016


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