So Many Books, So Little Time

Author Judy Blume became a household name for anyone growing up in the 70s and 80s, either as a child or the parent of one. She dared to write children’s fiction with taboo topics such as bullying, racism, and sex, which caused her works to become either beloved or banned. Her most noted for teen girls is Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

At age 77, she wrote an adult novel, In the Unlikely Event, a fictional tale based on actual events that happened in her hometown of Elizabeth, N.J., in the 50s. Using her young life as source material, she recalls three actual, horrific plane crashes at the Newark airport within eight weeks. In an interview she said, “… that story lived so deep inside me. I’m glad it’s out. I never told anybody. Not even my daughter, who became a commercial airline pilot.” Her daughter said, “Mother, how could you never have told me this story?”

Main character Mimi is a 15-year-old living with her 33-year-old single mother Rusty. There is grandmother Irene, who sells cosmetics, and Mimi’s best friend Natalie, the affluent dentist’s daughter. Mimi is experiencing her first love with orphan Mason, and she lives in constant fear that her mother will not approve, because he is not Jewish. Another forbidden love is the dentist’s secretary who has also chosen a boy outside her Greek heritage. Her family will not accept this choice. And there is Henry, Mimi’s uncle, a reporter who lives with them and is a positive influence in Mimi’s life.

Then as the planes descend upon this community, devastation occurs both physically and emotionally for the people who live there. In a panic state, the people try to find a reason for the disasters in such close proximity. Could it mean something that all three crashes narrowly missed schools? Was it the work of Communists? (after all, this was the 50s) or aliens or sabotage. The site of the third crash almost takes on a carnival air, with hawkers selling popcorn and families taking their children to see the devastation. As awful as the crashes were, Blume focuses on the way people themselves crash and burn, or often fly higher than expected.

The novel is told in short chapter bursts in many voices, and eventually all these lives are threaded together. The details of the 50s will be recognizable to many of you—post-World War II suburbs, refinished basements with knotty-pine walls, Bird’s Eye vegetables, Elizabeth Taylor haircuts, and the Korean War references.

The end takes us to the reunion of this community 30 years later to show how the people who lived through this experience managed to make sense of what they experienced through the crashes.

Blume says, in her unique writing perspective, “We are all passengers in this world, fastening our seatbelts, hoping we reach our desired destinations and bracing for what comes next.”

Reviewer Violetta Armour is an Oakwood resident, a former bookstore owner in Ahwatukee, and author of five novels, including the award-winning “I’ll Always Be with You.” You can read more of her book reviews on her blog at