Although she has written a number of books for adults, Judy Blume is best known for her books for young adults, such as Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Blubber or even her middle grade books like Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Fudge. When her adult books are referenced it is typically people who loved her young adult books giggling about having found Wifey as teenagers and being completely shocked by the racy content.
All of this is set to change with the publication of Blume’s wonderful new novel for adults, In the Unlikely Event. Based on a series of true events – three passenger planes either going to or coming from Newark airport crashing over Elizabeth, New Jersey in a span of less than two months in the 1950s – In the Unlikely Event is a richly realized portrait of a very idealized time in American history. Perhaps partly because Blume herself was growing up in Elizabeth at the time of the crashes, there is a sense of veracity that comes with the story; So much so that some reviewers and interviewers have mistakenly referred to this book as a kind of memoir, a charge which Blume adamantly denies.
The mistake is understandable, since Blume’s main character is, as Blume was, a teenager trying to come to grips with inexplicable events that coincide with a turning point in American history. Blume does not stop her narrative with the teenage Miri, however. Miri’s mother, boyfriend, and a myriad of other characters provide their points of view as well. Blume even includes characters who will only be seen once, because they are on a plane which is about to crash and leave no survivors. Amazingly, each of these characters, even the ones seen only for a few minutes, seem fully human, with fears, hopes, dreams, and motivations expertly and interestingly brought forth to round them out. Miri and the other primary characters feel so real that readers will easily forget that they are fiction.
Kathleen McInerney is a consistently good narrator who does a consistently good job with In the Unlikely Event. She enhances the personalities Blume brings out in each character to make them even more vibrant than they already were. McInerney also knows exactly when to assert herself in her narration and when to disappear into the well-written and intriguing story, which makes for an absolutely superb listening experience.