The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson is, like Ford Prefect's view of the planet Earth, mostly harmless. That may sound like I'm damning with faint praise, but that's not really the case. Though I prefer the first book, Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes, this sequel stands on its own pretty well as realistic fiction for teens who want something beyond the usual Clique or Pretty Little Liars tripe (which I would classify as mostly harmful). Have you taken a look at the shelves in the YA section of the bookstore or library recently? It's pretty much dominated by paranormal romance and steampunk dystopias, which is all well and good if that's what you're looking for, but the pickin's are fairly slim for readers looking for decent realistic teen fiction.
Anyway, this books picks up as Ginny Blackstone is trying to compose her college admissions essays when out of the blue she gets a mysterious email from an English boy named Oliver, who claims he has the last letter her aunt left her, the one that was in her backpack stolen from the beach in Greece and which she never got the chance to read. When she travels to London to meet him and get it back, it turns out he's "kinda blackmailing" her. And oh yeah, Keith, the boy with whom she had "kind of something" is actually living with another girl named Ellis. Despite the unlikelihood of the scenario, all four of them cram into a tiny, crappy car and traipse about France, the Netherlands and Ireland following the directives in the last letter in order to find the three installments of a triptych created by Ginny's wacky artist aunt. International incidents are narrowly avoided and highjinks ensue in the process.
Whereas in the first novel, Ginny discovers a self-reliance and a sense of adventure she did not know she possessed, in this one she realizes that it's okay to ask for help sometimes, too, and that sometimes the adventures you end up having are quite different from the ones you're expecting. Yes, as realizations go, these aren't exactly earth-shattering, but the book is still fun, and I respect stories that encourage young people to travel as a means of knowing yourself and learning what it means to be "other."
My coworker Marika McCoola, the children's buyer at our store, snagged an ARC of this book for me from our Harper sales rep, Anne DeCourcey, because she knew I'd want to read it. Thanks, Marika! This book pubs in late April 2011.