In her highly anticipated new novel, Judy Blume, the New York Times # 1 best-selling author of Summer Sisters and of young adult classics such as Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, creates a richly textured and moving story of three generations of families, friends and strangers, whose lives are profoundly changed by unexpected events.
In 1987, Miri Ammerman returns to her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, to attend a commemoration of the worst year of her life. Thirty-five years earlier, when Miri was fifteen, and in love for the first time, a succession of airplanes fell from the sky, leaving a community reeling. Against this backdrop of actual events that Blume experienced in the early 1950s, when airline travel was new and exciting and everyone dreamed of going somewhere, she paints a vivid portrait of a particular time and place—Nat King Cole singing “Unforgettable,” Elizabeth Taylor haircuts, young (and not-so-young) love, explosive friendships, A-bomb hysteria, rumors of Communist threat. And a young journalist who makes his name reporting tragedy. Through it all, one generation reminds another that life goes on.
In the Unlikely Event is vintage Judy Blume, with all the hallmarks of Judy Blume’s unparalleled storytelling, and full of memorable characters who cope with loss, remember the good times and, finally, wonder at the joy that keeps them going. – Goodreads
I’ve only read one of Judy Blume’s books for young readers (I know, I know), but when this book crossed my path, I was incurably curious.
It’s an adult book, but I was surprised to discover that the majority of the characters from whose perspective it is written are teenagers. I suppose it’s not a young adult book because of the way it’s written and the length, but it feels like it’s just barely over that line into adult fiction.
The majority of this story takes place in the 1950s, a time when air travel was new, girls were brought up to be “good,” and pregnancy out of wedlock was still scandalous. Though the book has many characters and switches perspectives frequently, at the centre is Miri Ammerman, a 15-year-old who is living the most tumultuous year of her life.
It begins when she is out shopping with her mother, and a plane falls from the sky, nearly crashing right into them.Which is shocking enough, but that’s not the end of it – two more planes crash into the town over the next several months. What follows is an account of how the community as a whole deals with the trauma, and how our key characters handle it (or don’t).
Underpinning this traumatic event are the ongoing stories of Miri’s family and the friends, and the secrets they’re keeping. There’s the mystery of Miri’s father, who has never been a part of her life, and who her mother never talks about. There’s Miri’s best friend, whose mental and physical state take a sharp downturn following the crash. There’s Miri’s boyfriend, who lives in an orphanage and whose history isn’t something he readily discusses. And there’s Miri’s mother, a beautiful woman who had Miri when she was a teenager, yet never seems to have any long-term relationships. Finally, there’s the mystery of the crashes – is it really possible that they were just a freak coincidence, or is there something more sinister at play?
Blume does an excellent job of evoking her time-period. That she chose a catastrophe that played on the relatively recent advent of mass air travel was brilliant, since we tend to distrust what is new. Some of the theories cooked up by paranoid townspeople seem ridiculous now, but at the time, given how little many people understood of the workings of planes, was probably realistic. This naive view of the world and new technology is reflected in Miri’s wide-eyed innocent and idealistic outlook on the world.
As I said at the beginning of this review, I have only read one other of Blume’s books, but I think this story will have a familiar feel for her fans. Like her well-known books for teenagers, this book shows us the fallibility and vulnerability of its characters, as well as their strength and loyalty. It tackles important issues that affect people at different points in life, and reminds us that while we might make mistakes, particularly in intense circumstances, we’re all striving to do our best by the ones we love.
I think the book was a bit longer than it needed to be, and there were a few too many characters. But nonetheless, it’s got a lot of depth and substance to it, and is well worth the effort.
Author: Judy Blume
Published By: Doubleday Canada
Released: June 2, 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction, Family, Character-Driven
Date Read: June 13-29, 2015