Joelene Reviews: In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
In 1987 Miri Ammerman prepares to return to her hometown, Elizabeth, New Jersey for a commemoration of the tragedy that unfolded thirty-five years earlier.
At fifteen, Miri’s world was beginning to open up for her. With 1951 almost over, 1952 will be the year she finds her first love and meets her father. It will also be the worst year of her life. A year in which her best friend becomes a stranger, her entire school lives in fear of falling planes and a year in which Miri learns that no matter how much you love people, sometimes you cannot trust them.
Judy Blume is an author that generations of teens have grown up with. With In the Unlikely Event she has written her first novel for adults in seventeen years. For any of us who grew up with Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret or Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing for company, we now have a novel to turn to as adults. Though, one could argue, not completely. While In the Unlikely Event has a more adult slant, and many adult viewpoints, the world is still primarily seen through the eyes of a teenager. There is still an innocence about the perspective in much of this story that makes a reader see the world through new, unjaded eyes.
Knowing what Unlikely Event is about creates a pervasive feeling of dread through the novel. As favourite characters board planes, reading further becomes almost stressful. Even as the characters go about their daily lives, there is a feeling of doom hanging over them. The notion that they might not all survive three planes tumbling from the sky leaks into the pages.
These catastrophic events are experienced through multiple perspectives, which works in achieving the sense of community that Blume was evidently pursuing. For me, though, there were too many voices. A few of them stood out far and above the others and I would have preferred the novel to have focussed on them. Miri, the central character, obviously takes centre stage. Through her narrative enough of a sense of community is built up. Her accounts of the toll the accidents take on her school-mates, her best friend, her family and the community at large works, because her viewpoint is so ingrained in the novel. Even when she goes to community meetings about the accidents, the atmosphere in her description is electric.
While Unlikely Event centres around the three unfortunate Newark passenger plane crashes that happened in the early 50s, there’s so much more to get swept up in in the tale. Set in another era, Unlikely Event takes us back to the days of Elizabeth Taylor hairstyles and distinctive American cars.
It also harkens back to an era that had wildly different core values. Much of Miri’s worry stems from the fact that she lives in a time when protecting children meant not telling them anything. Rather than talking the tragedies out, the adults leave the children to feed each other’s fears until they believe the crashes are anything from enemy attacks to aliens. Similarly, as an illegitimate child, Miri’s past is shrouded in mystery.
Unlikely Event could easily be a novel that descends into the chaos of the disaster that it is depicting; instead it explores the social intricacies surrounding the events. While it has themes that aren’t suitable for younger readers, older teens who enjoy contemporary YA would likely love this novel.
In the Unlikely Event – Judy Blume
Pan Macmillan (June 2, 2015)