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Pickle Me This

June 24, 2015

Mini Review: In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

in-the-unlikely-eventIn this book about a teenage girl growing up in the ’50s in Elizabeth, New Jersey, I was kind of hoping for the sequel to Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, which Judy Blume has called her most autobiographical work and which has dark and deep undertones more so than even a book like Tiger Eyes. In some ways though In the Unlikely Event feels less deep than Sally, though it deals with a situation particular and tragic. In 1951 and 1952, three planes crashed in three months in Elizabeth, something Blume herself lived through and reimagines in her new novel, her first for adults since Summer Sisters. The novel is told from a slew of perspectives, some of them just a few paragraphs long each, and also in fictional newspaper accounts. The centre of the book is the character Miri who is just 15 and embarking upon her first romance when she and those around her bear witness to the destruction and devastation of the crashing planes. PTSD wasn’t something anybody imagined at the time, and so Miri and her friends and family (and other characters on the periphery of their lives) are urged to just get on with things, their trauma manifesting in various ways. And while Blume attempts an allegory in which the plane crashes stand in for the more recent terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001, more than anything the novel is a soap opera. The tragedies cast characters’ lives in new lights and they’re driven to impulsive acts outside their usual frames of experiences, which makes for interesting reading for the most part, if it dwells on junior high school drama a bit too much (as well as a curious bit in which a character is possessed by the spirit of a dancer who died in the first crash). If you’re complaining about too much junior high drama though, perhaps you shouldn’t be reading Judy Blume, which is fair enough, but then the adult story-lines were so interesting and (SPOILERS!) what happened on page 320 had me gasping in horror—more of that please! More than anything though, a new book by Judy Blume is an event, and I’m glad to have been part of it. We’re now upon the season such books were made for after all. But while the novel tied up tidily, it left me a little unsatisfied and I don’t think I’m going to feel better until I’ve gone back and read Sally again.

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