This coming of age story, which is sprinkled with scenes suited to a travelogue, leads Ginny Blackstone on a journey through her Aunt Peg's life on a quest for her own identity that leads her to her inheritance and to love mixed with heartbreak.
Shortly after learning that her favorite aunt, her mother's younger sister, has died in England while on a journey of discovery through Europe, Ginny receives a blue envelope with strict instructions that lead her to a packet of twelve more blue envelopes--thirteen blue envelopes in total--and that lead her on a seemingly senseless journey of her own discovery, with each stop offering apparent--or not so apparent--deeper meaning.
The first blue envelope provides Ginny with $1000 for taxi fare, a passport, a one-way ticket to London, a backpack, an uncharacteristic list of rules and a reference to a childhood game of "today I live in ..." played with great enthusiasm with her favorite aunt, Aunt Peg. The rules prohibit modern technology and modern opinion from intruding into Ginny's coming of age adventure and tell her how to prepare (or not to prepare) for her trip to London and beyond.
Rule #1: You will bring only what fits in your backpack. ... [no] purse of carry-on.
Rule #2: You may n ot bring guidebooks, ... And no journals.
Rule #3: You cannot bring extra money ... I'll take care of all that.
Rule #4: No electronic crutches. ... Postcards and letters are ... encouraged.
Signing herself on each of the thirteen messages inside the blue envelopes as "Your Runaway Aunt," we are given the hint that Ginny's journey is one during which she will be chasing her aunt and trying to overtake her, perhaps overtake her metaphorically, perhaps literally, perhaps both. Ginny's first assigned stop is in New York at the 4th Noodle Chinese dinner where Peg lived in the upstairs 4th Noodle Penthouse. At the dinner, she receives a package, looking like a Chinese dumpling, holding all the other blue envelopes bound together with a rubber band wound double.
In London, the destination revealed in the second blue envelope, Ginny meets Richard who escorts her around on various tasks assigned to her. She stays at his home and notices the enduring imprints of her aunt's earlier presence there, imprints, like a quilt, that must have taken time to create, suggesting that Aunt Peg was in Richard's home a long time. Richard gets Ginny started on her tasks but leaves her to fend for herself as she tries, after a couple of false starts, to find an artist to whom to give a gift of close to one thousand British Pounds. Ginny fulfills this task through the actor and writer Keith who then becomes her companion on the next phase of her progress through the envelopes.
The next message sends her, with Keith in tow, to Edinburgh, Scotland. She is sent to meet a Scottish artist whom Peg admired and stayed with, Mari Adams.
I want you to meet her too. ... Mari is the Master, Gin, and she'll know what you need even if you don't. Love, Your Runaway Aunt
While nothing yet shakes Ginny's faith in Aunt Peg, whose zest for living keeps Ginny from being "boring," Keith, after meeting Mari--Ginny's destination for Scotland--declares that the quest is less than valueless and that, from what he has seen and heard, he likes Aunt Peg less and less.
Subsequent messages with blue envelopes send Ginny to an assortment of places like Greece and Paris, where she must make a sacrifice to the crumbling statues of the vestal virgins standing (or once standing) lining the sides of a temple and where she nearly misses the face of Da Vici's Mona Lisa.
I have to insist that you go to the Louvre immediately. You can get your next assignment there, in the proper atmosphere. Love, Your Runaway Aunt
The hidden deeper meaning Ginny searches for in these seems to be that all beauty fades, crumbles and turns to dust but that the beauty immortalized in paints lasts a little longer. In between bewildering assignments, Ginny fights her fair share of romantic advances and wishes she knew how to neutralize her inner magnet that attracts the wrong kind of young men to her.
With one envelope left to go, her backpack is stolen and along with it, the thirteenth blue envelope. Returning to London, Richard takes Ginny to Peg's studio, a spot arranged for her in the attic of famous Herrods department store where Richard works in executive management. Richard has revealed to Ginny that, even though Peg had learned of having a devastating and ultimately fatal disease, he married her--making him Ginny's uncle--and cared for her through her last days and until her death. This explains for Ginny why Aunt Peg's imprint in Richard's home indicated that it was developed over a long length of time.
At Peg's studio, Ginny finds what she believes Aunt Peg would have revealed to her in the last message, the message contained in the stolen thirteenth envelope. As a consequence of Ginny's epiphany, she and Richard put works painted by Peg on auction: "Cecil led them through a long hallway to the auction room."
The wealth that results from the sales is Ginny's inheritance from her favorite aunt, yet, she splits it with Richard, leaving half of the inheritance behind her. United now with Keith, despite her broken heart over finding that her crush on Richard was misplaced since Richard is her uncle, Ginny has a young woman's view of life now. She has come of age and appreciates the inheritance Aunt Peg arranged and left for her. Of course, Ginny's inheritance was more than the money, it was the knowledge of Aunt Peg's life and of Aunt Peg's own very special journey.