Readers who grew up with Judy Blume’s memorable characters will find the same captivating, authentic qualities in Miri Ammerman, the teenage protagonist of Blume’s newest novel, In the Unlikely Event. Set in the town of Elizabeth, New Jersey in the 1950’s, several plane crashes occur only a few months apart, and the town soon speculates causes ranging from attacks targeting the town’s children to alien invasions. Miri’s lovable Uncle Henry, a reporter for the local paper, writes about the incidents and interviews survivors. Miri and her friends, caught up in social dances and first loves, find themselves as unlikely survivors of the crashes while relatives and close friends die or become victims with PTSD-like symptoms that forever alter Miri’s relationships.
While Miri’s is the main voice of the novel, each section is from the perspective of a range of characters narrating their own story of survival or loss in relation to the plane crashes. It is slowly revealed that many characters are connected through circumstances or relationships, showing how a small community comes together during a time of crisis. As the details of the plane tragedies unfold, Miri’s life also unfolds as she matures and learns more about the complexity of love and family. Miri, raised by a single mother, meets new, interesting relatives she never knew existed. Each character holds his or her own secrets, and the reader is able to omnisciently watch and predict the impact of these secrets on other characters.
While the novel is not explicitly Jewish, many of the characters are Jewish, using Yiddish phrases, discussing Jewish holidays, and contemplating interfaith relationships. This coming-of-age story will entertain both young adults and adult Judy Blume fans alike, showing that the loss of innocence opens up a world of unexpected events and life-changing realizations.
Blume mentions in the Author’s Notes that the plane crashes did occur in her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, but the characters are fictional. Blume brings to life the everyday experiences of that era in this accessible yet complex story.
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Jamie Wendt is the author of the poetry collection Fruit of the Earth, published by Main Street Rag Publishing Company (2018) and winner of the 2019 National Federation of Press Women Book Award. Her poetry has been published in various literary journals and anthologies, including Feminine Rising: Voices of Power and Invisibility, Lilith, Raleigh Review, Minerva Rising, Third Wednesday, and Saranac Review. Her essays and book reviews have been published in Green Mountains Review, the Forward, Literary Mama, and others. She holds an MFA from the University of Nebraska Omaha. She teaches high school English and lives in Chicago with her husband and two children.