July Book of the Month: In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
Judy Blume is a revolutionary. She dared to write about previously hidden subjects - racism, bullying, sex, menstruation — and did it with a voice so clear-cut, warm and honest that her books are legendary. She always focused on people, characters who were convincingly conflicted and not-perfect, who made mistakes but still survived the pitfalls of growing up. Now she has written what she says will be her ‘final novel for adults’, using her own experience of catastrophic plane crashes in her hometown as the central plot.
In the Unlikely Event is set in 1950s suburban America, and told in a chorus of voices, covering the whole small town. Most Blume fans will bond most with Miri, an amusing and gawky 14 year old living with her glamorous single mother, her make-up saleswoman grandmother and her journalist uncle. Miri's best friend, Natalie, comes from a wealthier family whereas her first-love/almost-boyfriend Mason is an orphan. When three separate planes fall out of the sky in the space of three months, the impact on the community is immense. Fear, panic, horror and a desperate need to make sense of the devastation means that emotions and relationships are pushed to the limit. But it is the long-term fallout that Blume really explores, with repercussions on her characters drawn out over three generations. Everyone has their outward persona yet seems to be hiding feelings or secrets, and the trauma brings all of this to a head. It is up to Miri to unpick the mystery.
Blume plays cleverly with time, fast-forwarding 35 years at the start and finish to reveal how these people coped and changed. The book has a pacy style, with short chapter bursts and real-life newspaper reports taken from Blume's own hometown paper. Most of all, Blume absolutely nails the period details, from the lingerie to Nat King Cole, Bogart to Bird's Eye vegetables. As one reviewer put it, 'Think Mad Men meets Anne Tyler'. It is a beautifully crafted, tightly woven work of art, with Blume's unmistakable voice ringing throughout.
What the critics said:
'A great portrait of an era...Blume's hallmark warmth and humanity shine through and there is a loveliness to this novel in its depths of philanthropy and human understanding. It leaves the reader longing to meet the author for a soul-lifting heart-to-heart. The fairy godmother is alive and well' - Guardian
'Reading In the Unlikely Event in adulthood is like reconnecting with a long-lost friend…In the Unlikely Event confronts the fact that as we grow up, the unexpected - tragedies, accidents, death, mysteries - becomes another kind of ordinary. You've been learning that on your own all these years; now, reading this, having Judy Blume guide you through it once again is deeply reassuring' - The New Yorker
What Mumsnetters said:
'SHE IS AMAZING! I love the way she she wrote for me as a preteen - 'Blubber', and the way she wrote for me as a teen - 'Tiger Eyes'. And she has written for adults! Anyone else out there who covets this woman? - madhousewife
'Oh how I loved those books! Thank you for reminding me of them. I used to see if I could read a book in a night but then decided to read them carefully and slowly so the stories lasted longer! My fave was Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, and Forever was passed around my group at school and then confiscated. Oh how I LOVED those books!' - GiantUnderCrackers
About the author:
Judy Blume is one of America's most beloved authors. She grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and was a teenager in 1952 when the real events in this book took place. She has written books for all ages. Her twenty-eight previous titles include Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret; Forever; and Summer Sisters. Her books have sold more than 85 million copies in 32 languages. She is a champion of intellectual freedom, working with the National Coalition Against Censorship in support of writers, teachers, librarians, and students. In 2004, Blume was awarded the National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. She lives in Key West and New York City, with her husband. They have three children and one grandchild.
You can also follow Judy's separate blog about the characters and incidents in the book including a playlist of songs.
Webchat with Judy Blume:
We are honoured and delighted that Judy will be joining us to answer your questions about In the Unlikely Event, all her terrific novels and her exceptional writing career on Monday 8 August, 9-10pm. Please feel free to discuss the book throughout the month and then come and chat to Judy on the night, and ask her a question or simply tell her what you think of any of her work. Here is your chance to chat to a legendary literary figure, so please do come along, whichever book you've read at whatever age…
Picador have 50 copies of In the Unlikely Event to give to Mumsnetters: to claim your copy, please fill in your details below. We’ll post on the thread when all the copies have gone. If you’re not lucky enough to bag one of those, you can always buy a Kindle edition or paperback copy.
Last updated: 6 months ago