I have to admit, this was my first Maureen Johnson. Ok, this isn't strictly true. The woman is a twitter maestro and I have long been addicted to her consistently witty and amusing stream of tweets for a while now. When I decided to commit to a travel themed month, I guess this was the perfect opportunity to give a Maureen classic a whirl.
Right, I really, REALLY wanted to love this, but, for me, I'm afraid it didn't quite hit the mark on a few things. I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with dear Ginny. I can completely relate to the shy awkward teenager torn between a desire to come out of her shell and a need to stay cocooned within it. I just felt there was always a barrier between me as the reader and her as the storyteller. Maybe it was the third person narrative, but she really only seemed to come alive for me in the intermittent letters to her friend Miriam, back in New Jersey.
I also had my reservations about Keith. I found his dialogue convincing, and on the whole, I thought he was a valuable and uplifting addition....APART FROM THE FACT HE WAS CALLED KEITH.... KEITH. I'm sorry, but you say Keith, I automatically think Chegwin. Not the image I want conjured up when imagining a romantic lead.
And also, for a romantic subplot, it was a bit light on the, well, romance. I got a bit excited when they had a cheeky snog in the graveyard, but then, that was it. Short-changed!
There were too many supporting characters that seemed to drift in and out of the story, having very little impact on Ginny as the protagonist and me as the reader. OK, this is true to life, especially when on the road, but just not what I wanted from a gripping read.
However, the biggest reason why I think I was left feeling a little 'meh' was the fact that I was missing one humongous chunk of back story. For someone with Ginny's personality, surely being left such a task by her aunt would leave her agonising over whether to go, but she just gets the envelopes then up sticks. And what about her parents? She's only seventeen, which, for even those most liberal of 'rents, is a bit of push, but her overprotective mum, is, apparently, quite happy to let her daughter zip across the Atlantic solo with no promise of contact. Really? REALLY?
BUT, it was funny, and the author made great use of her varied location, despite the canvas being a little wide and varied. And what I loved best was the fact that we have a main character who doesn't necessarily get swept away with wanderlust. It's becomes a bit predictable when every book about travel involves someone 'finding themselves'. Ginny, even though she learns some life lessons along the way, is sometimes baffled by her experiences, is homesick, is fed up with her aunt's strange requests (don't even get me started on Aunt Peg, or I'll be here for hours...*shakes fist*) and this made me love her a little bit more. It was refreshing to have her dig her heels in and do things her own way occasionally.
I will say that I want to read the sequel. Am I right on this one? Is it better? Worse? I don't like leaving a story unfinished, I just hope the conclusion is a satisfying one.
Like I said before, Maureen Johnson uses the locations well. I've always wanted to go to Paris, and reading this just made me wonder why I've I still haven't been. Also, I really, really, really, want to go to Copenhagen. Right now. I want to live on a boat surrounded by folk art, sipping my coffee and nibbling on a Danish pastry. However, I fear I may not be trendy enough for such a lifestyle. Oh well, a girl can dream...