In the early 1950s, a series of airplanes fell out of the sky and crashed in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Miri Ammerman was one of the townspeople who lived in the town when this happened, and she experienced the loss, confusion, and terror as it happened. Now it’s 35 years later, and she’s about to return to Elizabeth to commemorate the worst year of her life. Lost in memories of the past, including her first experience with love, Miri reflects on what happened and how it shaped her and the town she grew up in.
This is a standout book of 2015 for a number of reasons. It’s Judy Blume’s first novel in many years, which is noteworthy in and of itself. It’s also another of her adult novels (which are excellent and perhaps underrated). Although the cast of characters sometimes feels a bit bloated, the novel as a whole is a compelling look at a small town in the 1950s and feels authentic, just like a Judy Blume novel should.
The fact that it blends a real life event with fictional characters makes it a compelling read for many reasons, and it is here that Blume particularly excels. The line between historical fact and creative fiction is blurred, making for an interesting reading experience, especially for readers who like to know where they stand. But because Blume has taken liberties with the families who reside in Elizabeth and experience the plane crashes, she’s able to craft a narrative grounded in reality that still allows for her own unique voice to shine through.
This is especially true of the character of Miri Ammerman, who feels like classic Blume. She lives with her single mother Rusty and her grandmother Irene, and the winter the planes go down, Miri is fifteen. Blume encapsulates perfectly that time in adolescence, when things are new and confusing and exciting. Blume also dips in and out of other characters’ heads, allowing them to lend their perspectives to what is happening. The result is a fast-paced read.
On the whole, a very strong piece of fiction that readers should devour in a single sitting or two. There are enough characters that it could get confusing for readers who like to draw out their reading experiences, but Blume is so accessible it hardly matters. This is definitely a great read, and a notable book of 2015.
In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume. Knopf: 2015. Library copy.