A review by Nalini Haynes.
It’s 1987 and Miri Ammerman returns to Elizabeth, New Jersey, to commemorate a life-changing 3 months in the 1950s when 3 planes fell from the sky onto her city. Miri, at 15, is in love for the first time.
Blume exposes 1950s culture in microcosm, a portion of the Jewish and Italian communities in Elizabeth. Miri and her love Mason; Christina and her non-Jewish boyfriend Jack; Miri’s friends and their families.
Some characters promptly plummet to their deaths, ramping up the tension whenever new characters appear. Others suffer post traumatic stress disorder and lose family or friends.
In the Unlikely Event is based on true events, actual plane crashes from the 1950s in Elizabeth. Blume has used her real experiences to inform this historical fiction novel, lending a realism and urgency to the story alongside the cultural shift. The 1950s is a strange period, with mores and expectations alien to readers today.
Mild spoiler alert
My only difficulty with In the Unlikely Event was the introduction of new point-of-view characters before each plane crash. I would have preferred to stick with the central characters although I was surprised by these fleeting introductions.
I don’t normally read disaster novels, particularly on topics like airplane disasters, but this is Judy Blume and it’s her first book for adults in almost 20 years. So, in the unlikely event that I read a disaster novel, the author must be someone special!
Many characters embark on a journey of self-discovery and change while other characters embark on very different journeys. Blume’s characters are excellent, her anthropological exploration of 1950s culture is fascinating (think a serious version of Happy Days in book form) and the tension kept me racing through the pages. In the Unlikely Event is surprising and riveting, even for a reader like myself who usually avoids disaster stories.
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars
Format: paperback, 400 pages
Publisher: Picador (PanMacmillan)