Not long ago, Pajiba posted an article defending the character of Benny in the musical Rent. My brother and I–such devoted fans that when he came to visit me at college we didn’t go to parties, we got nosebleed seats at the Wang Theater to see the Boston tour–discussed it later on and agreed: we were now too old to really relate to the heroes of this musical that had meant so much to us. It was a bit of a heartbreaking moment, to be honest, and it is a moment, unfortunately, that has taken to repeating itself lately in my reading. I love reading YA books, and I always have. I think they take risks and push creative boundaries in ways that adult fiction frequently lacks the chutzpah to do. But every so often, in the middle of some mad-cap literary adventure, I am vividly reminded of all thirty-three of my years. 13 Little Blue Envelopes provided one such experience.
It spoils nothing to say that Ginny Blackstone’s Aunt Peg is dead and has been for a few months. This is information that is shared with the reader from the outset. Ginny is about 17 years old and relatively introverted; the only times she has ever felt recklessly creative were when she was visiting Peg in New York City. After her aunt’s death, Ginny is given a series of envelopes (13 of them and blue in color, for those who are just joining us). It seems that Peg has left Ginny something of a posthumous scavenger hunt: every time Ginny opens an envelope, she is given a destination and a set of instructions. She may not open the next envelope until the instructions from the previous one are complete. Peg has also left a heaping chunk of change for Ginny to spend on this endeavor (the locations are all in Europe) and the demand that while she is away, she cannot contact anyone in America by phone, email, or text.
And that’s where I got a bit tripped up. I know that for many YA books to work the parents need to be out of the picture in some way, shape, or form. They don’t have to be deceased; they can be on vacation, working at a time-consuming job, so “cool” that they don’t care what their kids are up to. The point is that they need to stand back and let the protagonist protagonate, as it were. So Ginny’s parents obviously can’t go to Europe with her, but would having them check in be that much of a hardship? First of all, Ginny’s mother (Peg’s sister) never really seemed to be a fan of all of Peg’s flights of fancy, so I don’t see how this massive adventure would pass muster. Secondly, Ginny is incredibly sheltered and no one seems to have sat down and talked to her before this trip to make sure she knows rules of basic safety. Third, Peg’s directions are straight-up uncomfortable. In London, she sends Ginny to stay with some random guy named Richard in his apartment (excuse me, flat). As it happens, Richard is a lovely guy (I think that’s his name; I’m late with writing this review) and meant a great deal to Peg, but she doesn’t share that information with Ginny until, like, the TWELFTH letter. Find a random cafe in Paris, Peg demands! Visit a reclusive artist in Scotland! Flirt with a guy in Rome! Sure, Ginny does plenty of “growing up” on her trip for whatever definition of “growing up” you’d like to use. But she also gets robbed, gets fleeced, and gets sexually assaulted! All of which are experiences that might force a person to “grow up” but are certainly not a necessary part of the process.
Heaven knows there’s a distinct possibility that I sound like an old curmudgeon. Or like the 33 year old that I am, who still checks in with my own parents wherever I go. But the conceit of having Ginny drop off the proverbial grid felt too irresponsible for me to really get into the story. There is a sequel, of course, and I’m not against reading it, but I’m also in no real hurry.