CBR9 #1: In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

I’ve got a ton of nonfiction in a pile next to my bed but I decided I really needed some fiction to take the edge off my anxiety.

This wasn’t the best choice.

I mentioned this on Facebook and my friends wanted to know if I had fallen down and hit my head because why would I think a Judy Blume book would be calming?  I tried to disprove them and then I remembered:

  • Iggie’s House – racism
  • Superfudge – dead turtle
  • Blubber – Mean Girls before Mean Girls was a thing
  • Sheila the Great – big ol’ liar
  • Tiger Eyes – dead dad
  • Sally J. Freedman – racism, maybe Hitler, sick kids

I could continue.

Happily for my mental health, Judy Blume is an amazing writer and even if the subject wasn’t calming, the book was great and worth my while.

in-the-unlikely-eventIn December of 1951, again in January 1952, and for a third time in February of the same year, planes crashed in Elizabeth, New Jersey.  This is true and Blume was an eighth grader living there when it happened.

Something like that doesn’t leave a person, and when you’re an author, it can hang around long enough to become a book.

In the Unlikely Event follows a slew of characters that could have fit into any book.  We get to see them through the lens of the crashes.

Miri is in ninth grade and this could have easily been her book, no plane crashes needed.  She’s at that age where she loves and trusts her mom, but is starting to see her as a person and not an all powerful being.  She wants to know more about her absent, not mentioned dad and is trying to figure out what it means to be getting older and what happens the first time you fall in love.  She has a tight group of girl friends, but things are changing there.  They’ve all been in a familiar path with routines and parts to play, but things aren’t staying the same and Miri wonders if she should be upset by it.  Of course having her first ever boyfriend helps, even if her best friend sees him as a problem.

If Blume had chosen to follow Miri, this would have been a solid book.  I liked her a lot and related to the joys and horrors of the teenage years.  She didn’t need the plane crashes to guide her decisions, but the way she reacts to them is in line with they way her character is written.

Along with Miri, we have sections from:

  • Her mother Rusty and grandmother Irene
  • The Osner family – senior in high school Steve, Miri’s best friend Natalie, Dr. O the town dentist, Mrs. O his beautiful wife, and young daughter Fern who was probably a big surprise.
  • Mason – Miri’s first love
  • Ruby the beautiful dancer
  • Leah – Miri’s uncle’s girlfriend
  • Henry – Miri’s uncle
  • Christina – young assistant in Dr. O’s office
  • Daisy – Dr. O’s long time assistant
  • And a few other characters that get to share a bit from these months

I should have written this list earlier because I kept confusing Leah, Christina and Daisy, which makes no sense because they are so incredibly different from each other.

The structure of the book is interesting because Blume didn’t need the plane crashes.  She’s created a cast of characters that are solid and true and everything that happens, with one exception, would have happened anyway.

But then, that’s the point.  When tragedy happens, everything changes but nothing changes.  You still have to get up and eat.  Dogs need to be walked.  Teeth need to be cleaned.  There are dances to go to and boyfriends to kiss.  Secrets to keep.

What the crashes do is show how each character responds to the every day boring moments as well as the defining moments.  Blume’s talent is that they all react truthfully based on who she has created them to be.

Later, when Miri is faced with an entirely different crisis, the crashes have given her a foundation to react from.  Would she have responded the same way had she not dealt with the terror and confusion of death?  Seeing a crash, losing people she knew and having the terror of not knowing if people you love are alive are thrown against “normal” family secrets, lies and panic.

For me, this was Miri’s book.  The other characters have good story arcs and I liked their sections, but I was all about Miri.  She’s a good kid with normal teenage girl thoughts, feelings and reactions, and like all of us, she has to learn who she is and redefine family and friendship as she gets older.  We all went through it.  She just had to do it with wreckage strewn across her town.

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