Underlying it all is the love these characters have: for one another, for living, for making better futures for themselves.
Like any self-respecting prepubescent girl of the ’80s, I devoured books by Judy Blume. A review of her list of publications reminds me of some of those titles: Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret; Blubber; Deenie; Iggie’s House. When I moved from junior to high school, Judy Blume went with me, contributing Tiger Eyes and Forever to my loan library. There wasn’t a teenaged girl among us, too, who hadn’t heard of Blume’s rather candid adult book, Wifey—and, like all my friends, I snuck it into my own room, as well.
And then I went to college and found a job and got married and bought a house, and I rarely thought of my former literary companion. Sometimes her name would come up, when we were recalling books from our childhood, authors we had loved. But, truth be told, 99.9% of the time I gave her no thought.
But then, thanks to the miracle of publicity review copies, Blume’s latest novel, In the Unlikely Event, showed up in the mail. I didn’t know what to expect. What would I, as an adult, think of her writing style? Would it seem juvenile? What kind of adult stories could she really tell? And how would they relate to me?
Turns out In the Unlikely Event is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s a warm and engaging, tragic, and romantic coming-of-age tale. The story is grounded in reality, based in 1950s Elizabeth, New Jersey, site of a true-life series of plane crashes. We meet and follow a number of characters, all of whom we care for. There’s 15-year-old Miri, the main character whose point of view we see the most; Miri’s mom, Rusty; her best friend, Natalie; Natalie’s dad and brother; Mason, Miri’s boyfriend; and star-crossed lovers Christina and Jack. (I’ll admit: The cast of characters provided at the beginning of the book was a bit daunting—and, I initially thought, presumptuous. Who besides William Faulkner and Gabriel Garcia-Marquez should be allowed to incorporate so many characters that we need a list to keep track? As it was, I needn’t have worried: The characters are easy enough to remember as you read.)
Elizabeth is a small town, such that everyone knows everyone else. The plane crashes—all three with no survivors—dot the chronology of the story, affecting more and more lives with each successive accident. People change, patterns alter, relationships bloom—the latter of which, with the exception of her own budding romance, only serve to confuse and annoy Miri.
Underlying it all, though, is the love these characters have: for one another, for living, for making better futures for themselves. You’ll genuinely care about each of the storytellers as you get to know them, get inside their heads, see what dreams and desires and fears they all have.
Not everyone’s story will end happily, of course, and a few will end somewhere in between joy and despair. But the important thing is they’re learning. They learn how to deal with the present, to put away unnecessary parts of the past, to move beyond the seemingly impenetrable roadblocks they face.
Perhaps the best praise a reader can give a book is that she didn’t want it to end; she hated to say goodbye to the characters. Yep, that’s how I felt. | Laura Hamlett