First impressions: I love a book that wastes no time jumping into the action, and this one definitely falls into that category. It opens with the first letter to Ginny from her Aunt Peg, explaining the journey that’s going to take up the bulk of the rest of the book.
Lasting impressions: The travel aspects were a lot of fun to read, but I found it kind of unbelievable at times.
Conflicting impressions: For a high school student practically alone on her trek across Europe, Ginny seemed remarkably at ease. I kept waiting for her to experience some crippling self-doubt or break down and rip open the rest of the envelopes like any normal person would do, but instead she kind of wandered aimlessly at times and never seemed to get overwhelmed by this immense task.
Overall impressions: Every book requires some suspension of disbelief, but this one seemed to require it in massive doses. First, as other reviewers have mentioned before me, I find it hard to believe that Ginny is allowed to up and go to Europe. She has very few resources and is instructed (through her dead aunt’s letters) to bring no helpful guidebooks or other sources of money.
Now I get that her kooky, free-spirited aunt wanted her to go on a journey of self-discovery, and that her parents probably felt she’d be fine because said kooky aunt probably wouldn’t do anything to get her injured/maimed/killed, but…REALLY? There is no way my parents would have allowed that.
Maybe because I am an awful person, or maybe because I am sane, I also find it hard to believe that Ginny wouldn’t have opened all the letters, or even just the first few. The temptation would be so hard to resist! Sure, she wants to experience this journey of Aunt Peg’s but I certainly would not have had that kind of trust in my aunt.
But this is Ginny’s story, not mine. It doesn’t matter what I would do, because it’s about what Ginny would do, and Ginny chose to follow her aunt’s instructions on a wild goose chase around Europe. As she accomplishes tasks similar to those her aunt completed while spending her last few months alive, Ginny meets some interesting new friends and relatives, gets herself into some pretty ridiculous scenarios, and learns quite a bit about her aunt and herself along the way.
It’s a charming idea that Johnson developed well, and it was fun to get little glimpses of various European towns as Ginny makes her way to and from them. Still, some of the action dragged a bit at times, and the breakneck pace meant we were often flying off to someplace new before we’d had much of a chance to breathe and get to know where we had just been. I think 13 was a lot of envelopes to try and get through, and perhaps focusing on a smaller number would have allowed us to get to know Ginny a bit more and have her accomplish some tasks more in-depth.
This is a fun travel tale that I think younger teens would gobble up, but for the rest of us world-weary and cynical types it was sometimes too much to swallow.
Rating: 3/5 stars
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