When I was a kid I was presented with a four-pack of Judy Blume’s books. Otherwise known as Sheila the Great, Are you there God, it’s me, Margaret, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Blubber. Already a bit of a book worm, I was hooked. Instantly. I read and re-read those books over and over again. They spoke to me in a way that even my most previously loved books had yet to do. The characters in them became my best friends. I suppose you can say that Judy is directly responsible for my love of a character driven novel. Paint me a character that leaps off the page, and I’m devoted to your writing like a slave. Like a lover.
But I digress.
I read every single Judy Blume book at my school library, and then I went to the library in town to get more. I devoured them. I poured through book piles at our local book sale twice yearly and snatched up my own copies.
At fifteen, in my high school library, I found a copy of Letters to Judy and my love for her grew. I read all the letters that kids like me and kids not like me had written and her responses to them and I knew, I just knew, that she “got it”.
Years went by and I grew older and got married and had some babies and one day a friend of mine gave me a copy of Wifey. Colour me gobsmacked. Judy writing about very, very dirty things?? And yet, in her adult character voices, that same realism, that same truth poured out from the page. Once again, I could relate in ways she never could have known.
Fast forward to now. I’m having a rough year, it’s no secret. There is much good to be found within the hard and for me, writing and reading are still very much high on my list of relaxing and calming activities. Yesterday I had to do a Costco run. It happens more often than my pocketbook would like some weeks, but in a large family, we run out of stuff…a lot. So there I was armed with my list, my practical child and my sweet baby boy (13) who still holds my hand sometimes in public. And there was the book aisle. Gleaming, beautiful stacks of books. I usually meander down the aisle, running my hand over the titles, occasionally recommending books to confused looking shoppers (I have excellent taste) and sometimes, buying one. My daughter shot me a look. We weren’t here for books today. But, I noticed her eye wandering to the movies (her weakness) so I took advantage and shot over to the novels. Right at the front, Judy Blume and Sophie Kinsella. My heart and guaranteed laughter. What to do? I can’t get both. I picked up one and then the other and then I put Sophie down. She could wait. My love affair with Judy was far more established and had been in my heart much longer. Judy must come home with me. My daughter looked at me and shrug-smiled. She knows.
I picked up Judy late in the afternoon as the kids played a game of risk with Shawn, a game I REFUSE to play with them, and they know it. But, it was Father’s Day, so it was wonderful to hear them all bonding together in the other room. I, on the other hand, snuggled under a blanket and cracked the spine of my new friend.
In the Unlikely Event is a triumph. I can see why it took her so long to write about something that actually happened to her in her life and must have been hugely traumatic. Three plane crashes in such a short span of time. Insanity. But, I love the way, once again, she weaves her character stories. I could picture the faces of the folk of Elizabeth as plane after plane ripped into their town and I could feel their pain. The agony of lives cut short, the slow rebuilding of life only to be torn away again with another crash. Exquisite.
You can’t help but fall in love with the main family of the story and you can’t help but be terrified for Miri’s best friend, who is obviously suffering in more ways that anyone around her except for Miri realizes.
It’s a story that weaves the fragile beauty of family in with the precariousness of first loves and the absolute unpredictability of life and death.
In short, it’s beautiful.