ARMCHAIR BOOK CLUB: Blume at her very best with In the Unlikely Event

In the winter of 1952, three planes crashed in a span of three months over Elizabeth, a suburban city near Newark Airport.

Heather Allen reviews Judy Blume's new book - In the Unlikely Event.

Heather Allen reviews Judy Blume's new book - In the Unlikely Event.

In the winter of 1952, three planes crashed in a span of three months over Elizabeth, a suburban city near Newark Airport.

Almost 120 city dwellers and airline passengers died. The crashes not only incinerated parts of Elizabeth, but also scarred a great number of its residents, who either knew someone who had died, had their homes destroyed or witnessed the crashes.

At the time, author Judy Blume was a teenager living in Elizabeth — then nicknamed Plane Crash City. Even though she lived through a harrowing piece of American aviation history, it never occurred to the author — famed young adult and adult novels such as Are you there God? It’s me Margaret, Superfudge and Summer Sisters — to write about the crashes.

It wasn’t until six years ago, while attending a reading for a memoir written about Elizabeth in 1952, that the idea for the adult novel In the Unlikely Event was born.

Blume’s new book is set in Elizabeth during those fateful three months, and follows a string of fictional characters who are connected to the crashes in various intertwining ways. Blume sifted through facts from newspaper clippings, aviation records and her own memories to fictionalize a chilling story.

Although it was more than 50 years ago, Blume says her memories of that time remain clear. She can recall where she was when hearing about the first crash on the radio; and she remembers the endless school yard speculation about the cause of the crashes: Students suspected Communists, UFOs or sabotage (at the time terrorism wasn’t even in their vocabulary).

The community did succeed in getting Newark Airport closed for a time, and then to have flights routed over water instead of land whenever possible.

They didn’t succeed in shielding their children from the trauma. The adults in Blume’s book believed that if you didn’t talk to children about what happened, their grief would disappear more quickly. The aftermath of the crashes was prolonged and far-reaching — especially for the young.

Blume has charmed millions of readers around the world with her uncanny ability to remember, to understand and to write about the world from a young person’s point of view.

In the Unlikely Event is no different. Blume excels at creating believable, vulnerable and utterly real people, including many younger characters. Set against the back drop of such a catastrophe, Blume is at her very best.

Heather Allen is an avid book reader and reviewer living in Penticton.


Just Posted

Geordie Fife exits the dunk tank during 2017’s Discovery House Father’s Day festivities at Skaha Lake Park. The fundraiser helps raise awareness of the work done at the house and break down the stigma associated with addiction. (Western News File)
Discovery House Father’s Day fundraiser goes digital

The addiction recovery program will be rolling out videos ahead of the fundraiser

The proposed design of the five-storey building on Front Street. (City of Penticton)
Five-storey building proposed for Penticton’s Front Street

It will be the second time the proposal will head to council

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from St. Eugene’s residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

RCMP thanked the public for assistance in finding Benjamin Archie, last seen in Princeton. (RCMP)
Missing Chilliwack man found safe and sound

The 80-year-old had walked away from his home in Chilliwack

57-year-old Kathleen Richardson was discovered deceased in her home Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Her death is considered a homicide and connected to the slain brothers found on a Naramata forest road. (Submitted)
Naramata community in shock as condolences pour in for homicide victim Kathy Richardson

Richardson was well liked in the community, a volunteer firefighter with a home-based salon

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

(Heather Lueck image)
Crash north of Enderby knocks out power, slows Highway 97A traffic

A witness shared images of a medical helicopter landing at the scene

The RCMP presence in Central Okanagan public schools is being reviewed by the board of education. (File photo)
RCMP presence welcomed in Central Okanagan public schools

Staff survey feedback overwhelmingly positive from students, staff and parents

Most Read