'In the Unlikely Event': Judy Blume’s first novel in 17 years plumbs angst of teenagers in 1950s
June 7, 2015 12:00 AM
"In the Unlikely Event" by Judy Blume.
Judy Blume, author of "In the Unlikely Event."
By Melissa M. Firman
There are writers who break literary ground by challenging taboos and creating stories that become the defining emotional touchstones of our lives. For generations of readers who learned all we needed to know about life and love from the likes of “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” and “Forever…” that author is Judy Blume.
Iconic, revered and beloved, Ms. Blume’s characters and stories are imprinted on our souls so intensely that several decades later we instantly can recall how it felt to experience them, once upon a time.
"IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT"
By Judy Blume Knopf ($27.95).
While Ms. Blume’s first novel in 17 years probably won’t reach legendary status like her other books for children, teens and adults, “In the Unlikely Event” delivers a mostly satisfying, heartfelt read for her fans.
Given the premise, one wouldn’t expect a light novel. “In the Unlikely Event” centers on three real-life plane crashes that occurred within an eight-week span in Ms. Blume’s hometown of Elizabeth, N.J., during the winter of 1951-52. This tragedy took the lives of 116 people, including a former member of President Harry Truman’s Cabinet.
“In the Unlikely Event” features multiple narrators telling this story amid a dizzying cast of interconnected players. Readers are introduced to 31 characters in the first 30 pages, with more than two dozen people still waiting in the wings. A lesser writer than Ms. Blume would have difficulty pulling this off, and even in her capable hands, the novel occasionally feels shaky.
Much goes into the character development and the details of life in the 1950s that the writing itself occasionally suffers from being slightly watered-down and flat. But it is her signature unparalleled ability to capture the innermost lives of teenagers that makes “In the Unlikely Event” vintage Judy Blume.
Among so many characters, the ones who will be remembered are the teens. Ninth-grader Miri Ammerman takes center stage here as she struggles to understand the meaning of the crashes. (A Communist conspiracy? A plot to destroy children? Sabotage? The work of aliens?) Her best friend endures emotional aftershocks (some definite undiagnosed mental health issues there). And the mysteries of young love are explored, too (“One day you’re a regular girl, two weeks later, you’re someone in love”).
Miri is vintage Blume, a memorable character who could easily be friends with Margaret Simon of “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” fame. While the connections with all the other characters are essential to the novel, Miri’s family dynamics, their values, the class and economic divides, layers of secrets amid tragedy and teenage love, and the changing culture all would have been more than enough to make “In the Unlikely Event” a solid read.
Readers looking to this latest offering from Ms. Blume to reconnect with their youth will find it. “In the Unlikely Event” delivers on the warm nostalgia that we remember from Ms. Blume’s earlier books and will appeal to her admirers — of which I am absolutely one — who regard any new book by this trailblazing literary and cultural icon as a celebratory event.
Melissa M. Firman writes about books at melissafirman.com.
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