Excerpt from 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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13 Little Blue Envelopes

by Maureen Johnson

13 Little Blue Envelopes
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2005, 317 pages
    Oct 2006, 318 pages

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The next year, Aunt Peg went to a tiny college in Vermont where nobody got any grades and where she majored in painting. Ginny's mom, Aunt Peg's older sister, had a pretty clear vision of what "real" college majors included, and this was not one of them. To her, majoring in painting was an act of insanity akin to majoring in photocopying or reheating leftovers. Ginny's mom was born practical. She lived in a nice house and she had a little baby (Ginny). She encouraged her younger sister to become an accountant, like herself. Aunt Peg replied in a note that said she had picked up a minor in performance art.

As soon as she graduated, Aunt Peg went off to New York and moved into the 4th Noodle Penthouse, and there she remained. That was about the only constant in her life. Her job changed constantly. She was a manager at a major art supply store until she accidentally hit the zero one too many times on an online order form. Instead of the twenty non-returnable, custom-made Italian easels she was supposed to get, she was surprised to take delivery of two hundred. She answered phones as a temp at Trump headquarters until she happened to take a call from Donald himself. She thought it was one of her actor friends pretending to be Donald Trump—so she immediately launched into a tirade on "scumbag capitalists with bad toupees." She enjoyed recounting the experience of being escorted out of the building by two security guards. To Aunt Peg, these jobs were just the things she did until her art career took off.

Again, this caused Ginny's mother to despair over her little sister—and she always tried to remind Ginny that though she should love her aunt, she shouldn't try to be like her. There was never really any danger of this. Ginny was just too well behaved, too normal for that ever to be an issue. Still, she loved her visits to Aunt Peg's. Though they were erratic and all too infrequent, they were also magical experiences during which all normal rules of living were cast aside. Dinner didn't have to be balanced and on the table at six—it could be Afghan kebabs and black sesame ice cream at midnight. Evenings weren't spent in front of the TV. Sometimes they wandered through costume shops and boutiques, trying on the most expensive and outrageous things they could find—things Ginny would have been mortally embarrassed to put on around anyone else, and frequently things so pricey that she felt like she needed permission touch them. ("It's a store," Aunt Peg would say as she put on the five-hundred-dollar, saucer-sized sunglasses or the huge feathered hat. "The stuff is here to try on.")

The best part about Aunt Peg was that when Ginny was around her, she felt more interesting. She wasn't quiet and dutiful. She was louder. Aunt Peg made her different. And the promise had always been that Aunt Peg would be there—throughout high school, throughout college—to guide Ginny. "That's when you'll need me," Aunt Peg always said.

One day, in November of Ginny's sophomore year, Aunt Peg's phone stopped working. Ginny's mom sighed and figured the bill hadn't been paid. So she and Ginny got in the car to drive up to New York to see what was going on. The apartment above 4th Noodle was vacant. The super told them that Aunt Peg had moved out several days before, leaving no forwarding address. There was a little note, though, stuck under the welcome mat. It read: Something I just have to do. Be in touch soon.

At first, no one was too concerned. It was assumed that this was just another Aunt Peg escapade. A month went by. Then two. Then the spring semester was over. Then it was summer. Aunt Peg was simply gone. Then came a few postcards, basic assurances that she was doing well. They were postmarked from a variety of places—England, France, Italy—but they contained no explanations.

The foregoing is excerpted from 13 Little Bue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022. All Rights Reserved.

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