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In the Unlikely Event is the first adult Judy Blume book that I’ve read. In contrast to her young adult fare, there are far more subplots as well as a greater cast of characters. Now as I turn the last pages of her 400-page novel, I realize I will miss her voice. Blume knows relationships. She also knows how to tell a good story.
On the surface, In the Unlikely Event is nothing you would expect from Judy Blume. Set against the historical backdrop of 1950 New Jersey, it is a disturbing tale about three historical plane crashes that together killed 116 people—including aircrew, passengers, and locals. At the time, Blume was an eighth-grade student at a local junior high school, meaning she could as an adult draw upon firsthand memories. In addition, to report the events as accurately as possible, Blume turned to reports from two now defunct newspapers. She also relied on her husband to rework the stories in her research notebook into journalistic reports. Finally, In the Unlikely Event is made richer by the depth of understanding Blume shows of the human psyche, wherein her characters continue to react to the New Jersey tragedy long after the Newark airport has closed and the danger of more crashes has ceased.
At its best, In the Unlikely Event is also quintessential Judy Blume. Central protagonist, Miri, experiences her first love and first heartache. Her friendships with Natalie and Christina ebb and flow, as Natalie ends up in a mental hospital after believing she is possessed by the one of the passengers who died in the first crash and as Christina marries her boyfriend after a false alarm whereby she misses her period due to stress. Miri also meets her birth father and begins to probe her mother for the truth of why he disappeared from their lives. The adults have their own dramas too: they get married, have children, cheat on their significant others, and begin divorce proceedings. For each character, Blume paints their complexities, and draws readers into their world. A favorite of mine is Henri, who strives to establish himself as a reporter while also feeling qualms over how much tragedy serves to catapult him into fame.
With so many intertwining situations, I have to admit to sometimes finding myself confused about which subplots were being developed and whose voice was being heard. In this sense, In the Unlikely Event is not your childhood Judy Blume book. Consider that in Are you there God it’s me Margaret?, we’re introduced simply to Margaret, her parents, and her grandmother. Also, the entire first chapter is limited to the revelation that the family will move. In contract, the first chapter of In the Unlikely Event shows Miri singing a Christmas carol with Natalie, Miri’s mother wrapping Hannukah gifts, Steve getting acquainted with a new basketball player, Mason bringing his dog with him to a dinner with friends, and Natalie telling her brother to not ruin her holiday party. When the startup of a new teaching year required me to take a break from reading, I wondered whether I would be able to make sense of all the stories when I picked back up Blume’s novel. To my relief, I found myself pulled right back into the drama and rooting for all the characters to find happiness.
“Life is a series of unlikely events, isn’t it?” declares the 50-year-old Miri, thinking back to that awful winter. “And who knows what’s still to come?” This is such a true observation of life. As we all find ourselves shaped by the good and bad, how comforting to know that we can pick up Judy Blume to read. My husband bought me a signed copy of In the Unlikely Event for my birthday. I must thank him for helping me appreciate Judy Blume for her ability to write about the human experience, whether she is writing for teens or women or everyone.