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In the Unlikely Event Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 2, 2015
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An Amazon Best Book of June 2015: Three planes crash in a small town in New Jersey over the course of just two short months. Sounds like the backdrop of a horror movie, or in this post 9/11 world, something more sinister. But this actually happened in Elizabeth, New Jersey in the early 1950s, when beloved children’s author Judy Blume (Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.) was a young girl, experiencing the horror firsthand. Who, or what, was responsible—Communists? Martians? With no obvious explanation to cling to for comfort, this terrified community could only wait for something much bigger than the next shoe to drop. This is all big, mind-blowing stuff. But in her novel In the Unlikely Event, which like Summer Sisters is written for an adult audience, Blume travels back to that time and tells the more intimate stories within the larger one, to help us better comprehend the incomprehensible, and learn the lessons that are the only bright side of catastrophe. And the overarching moral, here, is to not let fear limit your possibilities. Through the various characters that inhabit this multigenerational tale, Blume beseeches us to not be afraid to get on a plane, take career risks, pursue your dreams, fall in love…After all, life is made up of unlikely events, and they “aren’t all bad. There are good ones, too.” --–Erin Kodicek
“In the Unlikely Event gives us everything that Blume is known (and beloved) for—the fierce, fraught nature of young relationships, the comfort and confines of cultural identity, the messiness and joys of the body—and takes it to a new level. This novel is her most ambitious to date, and she lives up to its reach with her characteristic frankness, compassion, and charm.” —Gayle Brandeis, The San Francisco Chronicle
“Judy Blume isn’t just revered, she’s revolutionary. . . . The novel moves with momentum, told in short chapter bursts, newspaper reports and even scripted dialogue. . . . Blume nails every 1950s detail, from the refinished basements with wet bars and knotty-pine walls to Elizabeth Taylor haircuts and mentions of Bogart and Bacall. . . . Blume, whose fiction for adults has the same emotional immediacy as her books for children, makes us feel the pure shock and wonder of living.” —Caroline Leavitt, The New York Times Book Review
“An ambitious book that combines adult experience with the sweet familiarity of Blume’s writing for and about younger people. . . . The novel rivals Tolstoy or Ferrante in its number of characters, families, and stories, and it feels not just believable but like a regular preteen-style Judy Blume page-turner, emotionally resonant and down-to-earth at once. . . . It’s also the experience of being in Blume’s authoritative hands, reading a dramatic story about daily life told in a funny, orderly, honest style. Blume is always kind to her readers; the suffering her characters experience feels real but never cruel, never melodramatic. . . . [Her books are] deftly crafted, and she’s done the hard work for us. . . . Reading In the Unlikely Event is like reconnecting with a long-lost friend.” —Sarah Larson, The New Yorker
“Judy Blume is back—and on her game! . . . A deftly written story that captures a town coping with loss and the sudden fame that horrible tragedy brings. You won’t want to turn the last page.” —Kim Hubbard,People Magazine
“Will appeal to loyal fans as well as new readers. . . . In Miri, Blume deftly exposes the inner life of a teenager girl during the 1950s—and not the sanitized version so often portrayed. In the Unlikely Event integrates Blume’s acclaimed observation of the teenage experience with intimate knowledge of an unusual series of events, making it a page-turner with cross-generational appeal.” —Meganne Fabrega, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Quite simply, extraordinary.” —Viv Groskop, The Guardian (U.K.)
“[In the Unlikely Event] does not disappoint. . . . Blume’s great gift is [her] personal touch; her unflinching but reassuring voice—that of a no-nonsense big sister who gives it to you straight, then gives you a hug—characterizes her adult novels as distinctly as it does her YA output.” —Emily Simon, Buffalo News
“Blume creates characters who are real and sympathetic.” —Amanda St. Amand, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Satisfying, heartfelt. . . Delivers on the warm nostalgia that we remember from Blume’s earlier books. . . It is her signature unparalleled ability to capture the innermost lives of teenagers that makes In the Unlikely Event vintage Judy Blume.” —Melissa M. Firman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“The details of the time and place ring true, and so do the feelings of the characters.” —Margaret Quamme, The Columbus Dispatch
“Excellent and satisfying. . . Has all the elements of Blume’s best books: the complex relationships between friends and family members, the straight talk and lack of shame about sex, and, most of all, the compassionate insight into the pleasures and pains of growing up.” —Aimee Levitt, Chicago Reader
“Vividly rendered. . . Blume deftly demonstrates just how different the personal fallout from tragedy can turn out to be. . . . As Blume proves over and over again not just in In the Unlikely Event but in all of her fiction, life does go on in spite of hardship. We love. We lose. We fail. We may fall. But the lucky ones, we try our best to endure.” —Alexis Burling,The Oregonian
“Blume, in clear and forthright storytelling, creates realistic characters searching for happiness while dodging the obstacles placed in their way. She does it with a compassionate understanding of life’s setbacks and the power we all have to survive and move on.” —Carol Memmott,Chicago Tribune
“Has [Judy Blume’s] signature warm, personal touch.” —Megan O’Grady, Vogue.com
“It’s Judy Blume and, therefore, it’s gold. . . . Despite tragedy at its core, [In the Unlikely Event] soars.” —Jacqueline Cutler, Newark Star Ledger
“A heartfelt novel intended to be heartwarming. In that it fully succeeds.” —Sherryl Connelly, New York Daily News
“Has [Judy Blume’s] signature warm, personal touch.” —Megan O’Grady, Vogue.com
“Comfort reading at its most soothing, the turn of its pages like sitting down with a beloved, long-lost friend.” —Lucy Scholes, The Independent(U.K.)
“Characteristically accessible, frequently charming, and always deeply human.” —Publishers Weekly
“There is no surprise that [In the Unlikely Event] is smoothly written, and its story compelling. The setting—the early 1950s—is especially well realized. . . A new Blume novel will always be big news.” —Michael Cart, Booklist (starred review)
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The book is a skillful blend of fiction and reality, using historical facts of the three Elizabeth, NJ plane crashes in 1951-52 as backdrop to the story. I loved the way she adapted the flowery language of 50’s journalism for her fictional news articles that headed up some chapters of the book. I think my favorite character is uncle Henry, the reporter, for his level-headed clear thinking in the face of borderline hysteria surrounding the succession of plane crashes. Having spent much of my childhood around my dad’s store, Goldblatt Jewelers, on Broad Street in Elizabeth, I was tickled by the references to the landmarks and shops I remembered (including my dad’s store!). If you enjoy a good story with a vivid setting, laced with interesting historical information, this story will captivate you as all of Judy Blume’s stories do. The pages fly.
In the Unlikely Event takes place in Blume's hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, during a time in the early 1950s when the city was shattered by three plane crashes within a short period of time. The neighbors in the diverse working class city are baffled and frightened--how likely is such a thing to happen not once but three times? What is behind such a thing? People are jittery with thoughts of a communist conspiracy, space aliens, another war. Fifteen year old Miri Ammerman lives in Elizabeth with her single mother, uncle and grandmother. She's the center of the large cast of characters--each one of whom could spin a novel themselves--who try to navigate this strange period when passenger planes plummet from the skies into the center of their lives.
It's a fully engaging novel, with a cast of characters that's almost too big. There are those "Wait a minute, who's that again? moments. It's okay, just leaf back and pick them up. It's a pleasure to have one of Judy Blume's adult works to enjoy.
If I had written this review halfway through the book, I would have given it 5 stars. The descriptions of of the crashes and victims was horrifying and moving. The only thing I can compare it to is 911 on a smaller scale. That it should happen once is horrendous. Twice is beyond nightmare. And 3 times in 58 days - I just have no words to express the fear and horror. I know how long it took me to recover from 911. I know that all these years later, every time I drive past Newark Airport and a plane is coming in low for a landing, I flinch, wondering it if will crash on the Turnpike. I find incredible that the teachers did not discuss it with their students, parents did not discuss it with their children. This is the biggest thing that will ever happen in their lives (except 911) and except for Steve, the other characters seemed to just get over it and get on with their lives. I think that every day they would wake up and wonder if another crash was coming today.
Ms. Blume has written 2 books here: the book of the disastrous winter of 1951-52, and a high school level soap opera about some families connected to other families. I feel that turning the story into a soap opera trivializes the impact of the crashes on the witnesses and Elizabeth residents. So I reduced the rating to 4 stars. She should have ended the book much sooner.