Like many women my age, I grew up reading Judy Blume’s books. It seemed as I grew older, so did the characters Blume wrote about. As far as beloved authors go, I feel like Judy Blume is this really awesome aunt who whispered in my ear the secrets of womanhood. She wrote about issues often difficult or impossible to talk about, like the incessant worries of our cycles, sexuality and desires. Blume tackled these issues directly, almost casually, making them seem … normal. Because, of course, they are normal. Blume continues to incorporate these unspoken truths in her adult novels.
In the Unlikely Event was published in 2015 by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, LLC, New York. It came to be in my reading pile because I recently took Judy Blume’s Master Class. If you are writing a novel or thinking you want to write a novel, I highly recommend taking her Master Class, Judy Blume Teaches Writing, which you can find and purchase here.
Her novel, In the Unlikely Event, is set in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where Blume grew up and is loosely based on true events of which she lived through. Specifically, the plot centers around a short period during the winter of 1951-52, when three commercial airplanes crashed in this small quiet town, taking a number of lives, narrowly missing two schools and an orphange and leaving a city reeling not once, not twice, but three times.
Though deemed random accidents by investigators, these horrific crashes occur during a time of heightened unease. The nation is in recovery from two World Wars, currently fighting the Korean War and an impending threat of the Cold War is swiftly approaching. It is already a tumultuous time and rumors of the real reasons behind the crashes abound, from sabotage to attacks from outer space.
Main character Miri Ammerman is a sophomore in high school. The story follows Miri as she tries to make sense of these disastrous events while also trying to make sense of the tumult of simply growing up. Raised in a Jewish household by the collective efforts of her single mother, grandmother and uncle, who is a reporter for the local newspaper, Miri discovers that the adults in her life––even the father she never met––are real people. They have dreams, desires, make mistakes and have to make sacrifices. In the Unlikely Event is also a story about how sometimes things just happen, for reasons many of us will never know or understand. People make choices––for better or worse––people change, planes crash and life goes on.
Blume does an excellent job of using several points of view to show how other Elizabethans are handling the aftermath of these plane crashes, including other members of Miri’s family, her friends and their families. Natalie, Miri’s best friend has a secret that is destroying her. Christine, the daughter of strict Greek parents risks everything for Jack, a boy who is not Greek. Miri meets Mason, who changes everything in her young heart, and who is navigating life as an orphan, with only his brother, Jack, to look out for him. Daisy, perhaps my favorite character, has a “condition” which she was born with and of which she takes in stride, happy to be herself and happy to help others discover who they really are as well.
Blume addresses many issues here, including issues typical for this time period (gender bias, prejudice and racism, questionable propriety) but also issues that often tear families apart, such as alcoholism, abuse, mental and eating disorders, and infidelity. As always she approaches these topics gently, but directly. She also delves into the lives of some of the victims and survivors of the plane crashes, making their tragedy all too real for us, the reader, as we become more invested in the characters. In the end, we are left with a lovely, emotionally wrought story about life and all of the random things it can throw at us. Even planes falling out of the sky.