Monday, August 01, 2011

The Last Little Blue Envelope, by Maureen Johnson

(If you haven't read Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes yet, you might want to do that before reading this sequel or its review! You have been warned!)

I'm not a big fan of sequels, but I think that this was one I was really looking forward to read, precisely because the idea of a sequel was never in the cards when the first book appeared. Instead, we were left with such an ending that the average reader was simply dying to have the story get concluded. After trudging across Europe through twelve envelopes with our heroine, it was a major annoyance that the thirteenth and final letter had been stolen and we ended up (much like our heroine Ginny) without any real sense of closure (fairy tale substitite endings aside!). I accepted that it was life and was prepared to move on, but was ecstatic when I read that there was a sequel and that the lost letter had been found!!

In this sequel, a few months have passed and Ginny is working on her college admission essay without a lot of success. She wants to recount the story of her trip and the twelve envelopes, but is suffering a major case of writer's block that gets in the way. In the midst of that frustration, she receives an email from a stranger named Oliver who has recovered the stolen letters. He offers to return them, but there's a catch: the last letter mentions a piece of Aunt Peg's artwork (potentially worth a fortune) and how to locate it. Oliver wants a piece of the action and won't turn over the letter unless Ginny agrees to take another trip through Europe on one final scavenger hunt. Against any rational advice, Ginny agrees to do so.

Along with old flame Keith (and his new girlfriend Ellis), Ginny and Oliver travel through some familiar territory and some new stomping grounds in search of Aunt Peg's artwork and some closure to a hard-earned quest. The results are at once predictable (Ginny and Oliver will naturally hit it off despite their awkward start) and fun (even old places look different a second time around).

The sequel, with its lovely detail and eye for color, will appeal to armchair travelers (Johnson has obviously collected her fair share of travel yarns) and the romantic elements have a suitable level of involvement to snag the reader. Mostly, though, this novel improves upon its predecessor as it closes with less convenient solutions and more open-ended conclusions. Yes, Ginny lives a fairly charmed life (worthy of a Meg Cabot novel), but things here are left more realistic than before. At the very least, Ginny has moved beyond her late aunt (and even her childhood) and is ready to impart on more mature adventures. The demand (and temptation) for a third installment are substantially reduced.

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