Saturday, February 25, 2012

Book Review: The Last Little Blue Envelope

I didn't have this book on the list of 2011 books I hoped to get around to reading in 2012 but that was because I had forgotten that Maureen Johnson had put out two books last year, not just The Name of the Star. Actually, I was also a bit surprised that this book exists, it's a sequel to one of her earlier works, Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes, which I thought stood perfectly fine on it's own and didn't see why it needed a sequel. In the original, Ginny Blackstone has received a package of letters from her dead aunt encouraging her to go on a crazy journey all across Europe, grows as a person, discovers more about her aunt (who had been rather eccentric and hadn't been in her life a lot the last few years) and eventually comes across her aunt's hidden collection of paintings and auctions them off. In the process however the last of the thirteen envelops is stolen along with Ginny's backpack and she's resigned herself that she'll never see the real thing, even though she figured out what the contents must've been. It's one of my favorite realistic fiction YA books because it's rather whacky, and who wants to read boring realistic fiction, so even though I was rather confused why it needed a sequel I was completely up for more crazy adventures.

The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson
  I'm not particularly fond of this cover for no real reason (well, it's pretty clear to me that the title was added onto the envelope in post-production which bothers me) but it works. Maybe I just don't like all of the pinks, reds, and blues together, the colors seem to clash a bit.

Summary: Ginny Blackstone's adventurous summer is long gone and, as she's racking her brains trying to come up with a way to fit it into her college application essays, she gets an email from someone who has found her missing envelope and tracked her down. There's a catch however, the boy who found her envelope (Oliver) won't simply give it to her but insists on accompanying her as she follows the final instructions in yet another jaunt across Europe. Ginny's kinda-boyfriend from the first adventure, Keith, and his sorta-girlfriend as they all get involved in various hi-jinks.

The Good: The tone that I liked so much in the first book returns here and Ginny's adventures manage to oddly feel more realistic because of it's weirdness. The main events are certainly stuff that would only happen in a novel (breaking into a restaurant to steal a table? sure!) but I really did love a lot of the little moments, like when all four characters and said table are all trying to fit in a small car. I know that my life has plenty of quirky little moments in it so for me these two books feel a lot more realistic and like my life than most of the realistic fiction out there and it's a nice feeling. I also liked how Ginny progressed here, she's regressed a little bit from the end of the previous book (which is to be expected after she went back to her ordinary life for four months) so it was nice to see her grow back into herself and see that she finally gets some closure about her aunt's death. Really that was my favorite part, seeing her get that closure that she always wanted in the first book and didn't quite bit and letting that help her move forward in life.

The Bad: A small nit-pick, Ginny is applying for colleges in late December/early January (assuming she really did wait until her adventure was over to finish writing her essays) which seemed really late for the US*. As for bigger nit-picks, I understood why Keith was in the story again (Ginny has a history with him and that subplot is unresolved) but he just didn't add anything to the story. His girlfriend for me added much more, even though she seemed a bit extraneous, and Oliver's story felt rather unfinished. It's a short book, just under 300 pages, but I thought for someone who is so important to the story that Oliver would really get more development and in the end all there is is a bit of an awkward relationship. I was also sad that Ginny's uncle Richard didn't get more page time but since he's in London and the story spends over half of it's time not in London that's fairly understandable.

So I liked the tone of the book, really liked Ginny, and thought that every other character came off as unneeded which is odd since without these other characters the story wouldn't have happened in the first place. In the end the book was alright but I really need to reread the first book now to see if Keith really wasn't as nice as I remember or if his apparently personality change happened between the two books.

*in the US you generally apply in October for early admission, where you hear back in late January, and then by late November/mid-December for regular admissions (where you would hear back in the spring). I suppose applications might be open until December 31st but I recall doing mine a few years ago much earlier and with how studious Ginny is set up to be that bugged me.