Judy Blume’s first book in 17 years has been widely anticipated and having been an avid reader of hers as a young girl, I was one of the first to check it out at the library.
The plot of In the Unlikely Event revolves around astonishing real life events that happened in Blume’s hometown. Taking place within three months in late 1951 and early 1952, three commercial planes crashed in Elizabeth, New Jersey, resulting in the death of passengers and town people alike. The plane crashes serve as a backdrop for Blume’s look into how everyday life in an American town is defined by not one, but three tragic events.
For the first hundred pages or so, I struggled to keep the characters straight and fully engage with the story. However, somewhere along the way, the cylinders started clicking and I was committed.
Blume really hits her stride exploring how these tragedies manifest in her character’s lives. The book is most honest when following Miri, the kind yet conflicted 15 year old main character, and, Natalie, Miri’s spoiled and damaged best friend. Miri’s response to the tragedies is to bathe in guilt when she experiences normal adolescent feelings in the wake of such devastation. Natalie, on the other hand, the self-centered ‘mean’ girl, internalizes her emotions so acutely that her mental stability suffers.
While Blume still excels in the characterization of teenage girls, in In the Unlikely Event she demonstrates maturity in her writing that didn’t exist twenty years ago. As she brings the survivors back together years later, she tightly wraps up all the loose ends of her characters’ lives. Yet, in those adults, you can still see the longings and angst of adolescence that remain, just as they linger in all of our own lives as adults.
“Life is a series of unlikely events, isn’t it?” Miri muses. And she’s right. Blume wrote exactly the book she should have written in her twilight years. We get to see all the Deenies and Margarets and Daveys grown up in these characters and it feels….right.
Elizabeth's rating: 3.5 stars