By Maureen Johnson.
I've been trying to read this book in e-book for...months now, I guess? I keep skipping out of it to go read more interesting e-books, which is saying something. I finally bit the bullet and finished this one while waiting around at the airport. It was...okay, I guess...but I think overall this is just kinda Not My Thing, but may be someone else's thing. So keep that in mind when you read the review.
Sentences ending in an asterisk (*) are referring to things that I will discuss below the spoiler cut.
The plot: 17-year-old Ginny Blackstone had a beloved Aunt Peg. Aunt Peg was a wild child artist who roamed the world and didn't settle down and just did what the heck she felt like. (She is repeatedly referred to as "your mad aunt" or "Your Runaway Aunt" throughout the book.) However, after another months-long disappearance, Aunt Peg eventually died of cancer three months ago. Ginny gets the title envelopes in the mail posthumously from her aunt, who is sending her on a quest across Europe. Her funds will be supplied (er, until she runs out of money, anyway), and she can't bring more than a backpack and NO electronics or Internet allowed. (Not that Aunt Peg can check this from beyond the grave, mind you.) Ginny is to open the envelopes at certain times and places when prompted and do what the letters say. Amazingly, Ginny's parents don't apparently object to this.
So Ginny bounces around Europe, following the instructions. The instructions are along the lines of "Give this large chunk of money to an artist you'd like to patronize" and "Go stay with this random friend of mine in Amsterdam." Unfortunately for Ginny, these things don't always go smoothly. I know Aunt Peg flew by the seat of her pants in life and yet somehow would miraculously find someone to crash with, but what with the failure to communicate travel plans from beyond the grave and all, it means that at one point Ginny is instructed to stay with someone who no longer lives there. Which leads her to have to stay in the world's skeeziest hostel (eeeeeesh!), followed by getting temporarily adopted by a super-perky set of parents.* To quote from the Amazon review: "The reason Ginny is sent to meet certain people is not always clear; sometimes she (and readers) wonder about the point of the exercise." Yeah, that's true.
The reason Ginny is sent to meet certain people is not always clear;
sometimes she (and readers) wonder about the point of the exercise.There is also, of course, a boy. Because there has to be a boy. The boy in this case is Keith, the English creator of "Starbucks: The Musical" that Ginny decides to patronize (as an artist), with awkward results. I'll be honest with you, I didn't really see the charms of Keith. He wasn't terribly charming or interesting to me, AND even from the beginning he came off to me as the sort of dude who will flake out on you at any minute, even if he lived in the same country as you. Feh, I didn't really give a shit about Keith.
Eventually, there are some twists to the story. Some of which I guess made sense, but others I found frustrating. You figure out as you go on that Peg is trying to have Ginny retrace a pilgrimage(?) Peg herself made in the past--but why? There's one surprise reveal that was kind of nice, but in retrospect, I thought it was weird that this was never clarified earlier.** Another one just kind of drove me crazy and from what I've heard, sounded like it was more for sequel bait than anything else*** Maybe other people are okay with this, maybe it's considered "artsy" or meaningful, I don't know. But it was annoying to me, and I just can't say that I was into it as a writing choice.
Overall, it's okay. The characters are mostly on the okay/bland/barely sketched in (that Knud guy? Huh?) side. Ginny is okay, but doesn't exactly stand out as a memorable personality. The plot itself is kind of weird and contrived, and like I said, has some failures here and there built into it. Possibly about the only thing that really stood out to me is Posthumous Aunt Peg, who sparkles on the page, even through a few short letters. She has more personality and spunk and creativity and daring than well, everyone else in the book--though she's clearly trying to pass that on to Ginny as best she can from beyond the grave. I guess Ginny is working on it.