The queen of YA writing has written another great novel for adults. Judy Blume’s In the Unlikely Event is the story of the town of Elizabeth, NJ, in the early 1950s after a series of successive plane crashes terrorized the suburb of Newark and changed the lives of Blume’s characters forever.
Event’s main character is young Miri Ammerman, who lives with her mother, grandmother and uncle in a duplex close to Newark airport’s flight path. She is fifteen and just starting to glimpse adult life – she falls in love, struggles with her best friends and has her first glimpse of the fallibility of parents. Amidst all this, several planes crash in or around her neighborhood, ending all sense of safety and normalcy. When I was reading this at first (despite the jacket description saying so – I must have skimmed it) I had no idea the crashes were historically accurate. Three planes did in fact crash in Elizabeth, NJ in the winter of 1951-1952 and terrorized a 1950s suburb for months. All were due to plane failures and not terrorism like we’d suspect today, but there were no 24-hr news services then to inform folks immediately. This was the beginning of McCarthyism and so Miri lives for months thinking the worst – that Commies are really coming after America, or Aliens have interfered, or her own government is conspiring to eliminate young people (all the crashes narrowly missed or hit schools and homes for children).
The plot is complicated to explain concisely so I won’t strive to do so here. I will only say that this was a page-turner. I loved reading about what life was like back then (I do love a period piece), wondering when the next crash would be, and wanting the best for Miri and her family. I liked that Blume inserted real life characters into some of the planes (one of them had been a Secretary of War who did in fact die in one of the crashes). I also learned from the bio that Judy Blume was from Elizabeth and would have grown up around these events, so I wonder how much is autobiographical. As always Blume’s writing is incredibly vivid and I could see these events like a movie in my mind. In fact, I can’t imagine they won’t make a movie of this. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn someone had already optioned it. I’ll be there opening weekend!