Originally published June 2015
Fair warning: I am a fangirl.
I grew up on Judy Blume’s books. You probably won’t find many 40-something women who didn’t read at least one, whether it was “Otherwise Know as Sheila the Great” or “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.”
So when I had the opportunity to listen to her talk about “In the Unlikely Event“ at a Chicago Humanities Festival event, I jumped at the chance and brought along a close friend and her daughter. So I didn’t have to fangirl by myself, you know.
As expected, Blume was a treasure to listen to—wise, witty and self-deprecating in nature, it’s hard to believe she is 77 years young. On stage to promote her latest, she says it was the book she was meant to write, and despite taking five years to complete, was the story that came to her in a flash.
The book, her first geared toward the adult market (I disagree, read on …) since Summer Sisters, follows the lives of Elizabeth, New Jersey residents during a time span of several months in 1951-1952 as the town experienced not one, but three, plane crashes in the span of several weeks. The backdrop is real, and Blume lived through it as an 8th grader in Elizabeth, so the voices, thoughts and feelings are authentic in nature.
Here is where I would disagree this book is singularly for adults. (As would Blume, who says as much when talking about the book.) The main protagonist is a 15-year-old girl, Miri Ammerman, smack in the middle of all that is teen angst. Boys, mothers, besties … Miri is navigating the waters of adolescence, similarly to the Margaret of many moons ago, and it’s no less interesting for a teen today to read than it is for an adult.
There are mature themes, for certain—infidelity, a female sexual predator, tragedy in the form of gruesome death—but nothing that’ll blow the socks off a tween, teen or young adult. In fact, I’d love for my 13-year-old to read it and weigh in on how she thinks Miri handles her relationship with her best friend, Natalie Osner—so deeply affected by the crashes that she has what I think is a nervous breakdown compounded by anorexia. I don’t want to reveal too much except to say the power of friendship is tested and reveals itself in a wonderful way as the book comes to a close.
The book offers many layers, as characters each take turns narrating, from Miri’s mother, Rusty, to members of the Osner family and Miri’s first real boyfriend, Mason McKittrick. The Osner family dynamic is interesting, engaging and even heartbreaking. I think I would have liked to get into Corinne’s psyche a bit more, to understand her as a wife and mother. Or even Rusty’s—some of the decisions she makes are not what you’d expect. While at the CHF event, audience questions were collected and I had asked how Blume’s own relationship with her mother colored how she wrote those kinds of relationships in books. The question wasn’t selected, so here I sit, still wondering.
And unlike her previous work, Blume takes us to present day so readers can sleep at night knowing what happens to Miri, Mason, Natalie, Steve, Christina, Rusty and Dr. O. The perfect way to end the book, though I am still waiting for Blume to deliver on what she is asked for a lot—a “Margaret in Menopause” sequel.
A great summer read, and super easy to pass down to your daughter, no matter her age.