Tag Archives: judy blume

IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT by Judy Blume

As you may have heard, Judy Blume is back this summer with a new book, her first for adults in over 15 years. In The Unlikely Event takes place in 1952 (when Blume was a teenager), in her hometown of Elizabeth, NJ. It is based on real events: three unrelated incidents of planes taking off or landing at Newark Airport and crashing in the suburban town of Elizabeth, all within a six-week period. While the characters are fictional, Blume based her book on both her memories of that scary time in her life and on extensive research done over the last 5 years.

The story is told mostly by classic Blume protagonist Miri Ammerman, a 14 year-old Jewish girl living in the suburbs. (Hello, Margaret, Sally, and Deenie!). Miri witnesses the first crash, and her last year of middle school is punctuated by the second two crashes as well as her first boyfriend, the sudden appearance of her father, and the loss of her best friend. In The Unlikely Event also has a host of other narrators: Miri’s family, her best friend’s family, people on the planes, people on the ground, and others in the community. Some reviewers have complained that there are too many characters to keep straight, but that didn’t bother me.

So, people seem to have loved this book (despite the confusing parade of narrators). I wish I had, but I didn’t. It read like an old-fashioned Judy Blume book to me, not like adult fiction. I found the characters to be pretty two-dimensional. They had flaws, some unexpected, but they were still pretty shallow. The dialogue was often predictable and cliched, and momentous things kept happening within very short time periods. One man lost his wife in the first crash and was paired off with another within a month. Miri’s father appeared in her life, causing her great angst, but the two of them never had a real conversation. An entire family broke apart within the course of a few weeks. It all felt rushed and oversimplified. I think I would have enjoyed the book more if I had read it when I read the rest of Judy Blume’s books, but I read too much else these days and this just didn’t compare.

I also thought that Blume’s treatment of the crashes was underdeveloped. Blume didn’t spare the grisly details, but I was still left wondering more about how the crashes impacted air travel, tourism and the local community.

The last chapter jumped ahead 30 years, when Miri was in her 40s and more mature. Unsurprisingly, that’s the chapter found the most satisfying. I liked learning how her life had turned out, and I thought Blume wrapped things up pretty realistically.

I am definitely in the minority. (I feel sort of traitorous even writing this review!) Most reviewers loved In The Unlikely Event, so if you’re a Judy Blume fan, give it a try. I should also note that the book does reflect the time period pretty well, and the naivete and girlishness of many of the characters may be pretty accurate for the 50s.

I listened to In The Unlikely Event on audio. The narration did not help the cause, as I found the narrator’s voice and diction pretty much spot on for a 14 year-old girl. That was fine for Miri’s sections, but it exacerbated my frustration with the (lack of) maturity of the other characters.

Sorry I am not more positive about this book – I really wanted to like it.

Shelf Discovery Challenge #1: FOREVER by Judy Blume

I am participating in Booking Mama's Shelf Discovery Challenge (discussed here). The challenge requires participants to read six books from Lizzie Skurnick's Shelf Discovery, a book about the classic young adult books we all read growing up.

Blume My first choice was Forever, by Judy Blume, a book I only read, shall we say, selections of when I was growing up. I remember the book being passed around at camp, where we all read the more colorful parts (such as p. 73 – a page number I've always remembered). I used to think that the world was separated into two different group of girls – those who had read Forever, and those who hadn't. When I went to the library last week, I swear I was embarrassed to check it out. I didn't make eye contact with the checkout person, and I felt like I was using a fake ID to buy wine coolers.

Forever is the story of the romance between Katherine and Michael, two high school seniors in New Jersey. It's Katherine's first sexual relationship, and the book is a good introduction to sex for teenagers. Katherine is responsible (though the book takes place pre-AIDS) and approaches her physical relationship maturely, but realistically. This being a Judy Blume book, other topics are tackled too – depression, death of a grandparent, teenage pregnancy.

I guess we all liked Forever in the early 80s because it wasn't gross (like The Joy of Sex), and it wasn't creepy, and it wasn't preachy. It was informative and told in a relatable tone. Reading it now, though, I found it somewhat unfulfilling. Katherine fell "out of love" with Michael pretty easily after a few weeks around a handsome fellow tennis instructor at summer camp, which made their relationship seem a bit dubious. I realize that they were 18 years old, but I never got much of a sense of why they thought they loved each other. Reading it as an adult, I was definitely struck by how young – and relatively self-absorbed – the characters were.

I am curious to see if I will have the same reaction to the other five books I am going to read for the challenge. I am definitely glad to have finally read Forever cover to cover, if for no other reason than my daughters probably will in due course, and I want to know what they're being exposed to. And, maybe, because I feel like one of the cool kids now.