In the Unlikely Event is the first book I’ve read by Judy Blume since I was a teenager, reading Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Deenie over and over again. (I ran out of books in my school library, so read and re-read favourites).
In the Unlikely Event tells the stories of a number of characters living in Elizabeth, New Jersey during the early 1950s when, over the course of a few months, there were three separate plane crashes in the city. The author grew up in Elizabeth and lived through these actual events.
I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I had hoped. This might sound as if I’m a hopeless optimist, looking for a happy ending while reading a book about characters dealing with the trauma of planes crashing into their town, but in my defence, I didn’t realise until the end of the book that the place and events of this story were real. I read Judy Blume books as a teenager to feel better about myself, to know that I wasn’t the only person who found being a teenager difficult.
In the Unlikely Event left me feeling slightly bored.
Firstly, there were so many characters, I couldn’t remember all of their stories. If I can’t remember their story, I won’t care about them. And if I don’t care about the characters, why read the story? Even though the telling of the story is shared by all of these characters, by the end of the book, I still wasn’t sure who they all were. Less characters telling the story would have improved the book.
Secondly, too many characters were killed just as I was getting to know them. This happened so often that eventually, every time a new character was introduced, I wondered how long it would be until they died in a plane crash. I did not want to care about any of the characters by the middle of the book, in case they were killed too.
Thirdly, there was a lot going on. There were single mothers, plane crashes, romances, infidelity, marriage break-ups, (yes, those last two themes are related), plane crashes, anorexia, secret marriages between people of different backgrounds, trauma, heartache, family expectations, threats of expulsion from school, and more plane crashes. This book actually left me feeling bored and tired.
The character who had the most appearances was Miri, the teenage daughter of a single mother. Miri witnessed the first crash and was also affected by all of the other crashes, (as were most of the people of Elizabeth), fell in love for the first time during the course of the story. Miri was a likeable character, who dealt with her circumstances admirably.
Miri’s mother, uncle, best friend, boyfriend, grandmother, parents of friends, aunt, brother of boyfriend, girlfriend of boyfriend’s brother, and hosts of other random characters, all had a shot at telling the story too, and mostly, they were good people.
Miri’s family is Jewish and I enjoyed reading about her family dynamics and the Jewish culture. The time the story took place was also very interesting. I didn’t realise that so many people truly worried about political conspiracies and Communists and aliens studying earthlings in preparation to take over America (!). Miri’s friends and schoolmates were particularly susceptible to worrying about these types of concerns. (Obviously I’m from a different time and place, but to me these worries seem ludicrous. I find it very difficult to believe that so many people took this stuff seriously).
I expect readers who are interested in plane crashes, or who remember the actual plane crashes in Elizabeth, would enjoy In the Unlikely Event more than I did.