Star­ring Judy Blume as her­self

The YA au­thor dishes on re­vis­it­ing her youth for her new grown-up novel, tweet­ing and book tours

Los Angeles Times - - BOOK REVIEW - By Jessica Gelt

Judy Blume says her cur­rent book tour will be her last.

“This is my farewell,” the 77year-old au­thor ac­knowl­edged re­cently over the phone from her part-time home in New York City. “Not in any bad sense of the word. I’ve just de­cided it re­ally is.”

June finds Blume pro­mot­ing her lat­est novel, “In the Un­likely Event” (Al­fred A. Knopf: 416 pp., $27.95), which is one of only four books she has writ­ten for adults. Her name has long been syn­ony­mous with young adult fic­tion, although she doesn’t con­sider her­self aY Anov­el­ist. Shedis­likes cat­e­gories, say­ing only that there was no such clas­si­fi­ca­tion when she wrote her most iconic books for teens, in­clud­ing 1970’s “Are You There God? It’sMe, Mar­garet” and 1975’s “For­ever.”

In­ter­est­ingly, “In the Un­likely Event” also fea­tures a largely ado­les­cent cast of char­ac­ters. Blume doesn’t know why, although she ad­mits she is most com­fort­able us­ing teenage voices in fic­tion.

The pro­tag­o­nist of “In the Un­likely Event” is a 15-year-old girl named Miri who lives through a ter­ri­fy­ing three-month pe­riod dur­ing which three pas­sen­ger planes crash in her home­town of El­iz­a­beth, N.J., each time nar­rowly avoid­ing some sort of school or or­phan­age.

As far-fetched as it may sound, sim­i­lar events re­ally hap­pened in late 1951 and early 1952. Blume was in eighth grade, and the kids at her school­were full of con­spir­acy the­o­ries. Could it be zom­bies, aliens, even com­mu­nists?

She re­mem­bers where she was when she heard about the first crash. It was a Sun­day af­ter­noon, and she was in the car with her mother and her friend Zelda.

“My mother liked to go out to a movie and an early din­ner,” she says. “We must’ve been lis­ten­ing to the ra­dio be­cause the pro­gramwas in­ter­rupted.”

Like a char­ac­ter in the book, Blume’s fa­ther­was a den­tist called on to iden­tify the vic­tims by their den­tal records.

Blume re-cre­ates this un­set­tling sea­son of fear by ex­am­in­ing the lives of the in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies af­fected by the ac­ci­dents. Many char­ac­ters are based on real peo­ple who died ei­ther in the planes or on the ground as well as on those who mourned their loss. The early 1950s mi­lieu is as lush as the cash mere sweaters her anx­ious teen he­roes wear. The Korean War looms, kids hang around burger joints and soda foun­tains, and scan­dalous unions take place in the back seats of roomy­cars.

“I love to say to my kids, ‘Don’t tellmeany­thing about­mymem­ory if I don’t know where my keys are, be­cause I wrote a 400-page book and I kept all of those char­ac­ters straight,’” Blume says with a laugh.

Writ­ing the book took five years that the au­thor re­calls as “painful.” She spent count­less hours por­ing over mi­cro­fiche news ac­counts. She also talked with as many old friends as she could about what they re­mem­bered. All those rec­ol­lec­tions made it into the book.

For Blume, the ap­proach to writ­ing a book for adults is the same as that for kids.

“The process isn’t any dif­fer­ent; it’s hor­ri­ble what­ever you are do­ing,” she says. “The first chap­ter is al­ways tor­ture.”

She’s re­mark­ably chip­per when she talks about the dif­fi­cul­ties of writ­ing, be­cause with ev­ery book as com­pli­cated as “In the Un­likely Event,” she swears she’ll never write another. The truth, though, is that she’ll most likely find her­self back at her desk even­tu­ally.

“The cre­ative juices don’t just go away,” she says.

This has been par­tic­u­larly true for Blume.

Over a ca­reer span­ning nearly half a cen­tury, she has writ­ten 29 books that have sold more than 85 mil­lion copies in 32 lan­guages. Women of a cer­tain age— par­tic­u­larly those­whogrewup in the1970s and 1980s — have im­printed on Blume the way baby birds might their moth­ers. Many first learned vi­tal de­tails about sex and men­stru­a­tion fromBlume’s books. She is their child­hood best friend and fa­vorite con­fi­dant.

Such read­ers will rec­og­nize key Blume-isms in this new book, in­clud­ing her un­canny abil­ity to con­jure the feel­ing of a first kiss, a longed for slow­dance at the school gym and the strange col­li­sion of emo­tions that can ac­com­pany the loss of one’s vir­gin­ity. Blume writes about such things with a cleareyed pre­ci­sion that is nei­ther pre­cious nor graphic.

“She had to stop her­self from talk­ing, from ask­ing ques­tions the way she did when she­was ner­vous, be­cause she sensed this boy didn’t want to talk,” she writes about Miri’s first dance with her fu­ture boyfriend. “She prayed the palms of her handswouldn’t sweat, that her de­odor­ant was work­ing, that the faint scent of her mother’s Ar­pège would reach his nos­trils. His breath was near her ear, mak­ing her tin­gle.”

If this sounds an aw­ful lot like the Blume le­gions of read­ers have love­dover the years, that’s be­cause the con­cerns are very much the same. The main dif­fer­ence be­tween her adult fic­tion and her fic­tion for younger read­ers is that the former has many more char­ac­ters than the lat­ter.

“Young adults can read this book,” she says. “They have my per­mis­sion if they want to slog through all those char­ac­ters.”

In the mean­time, Blume says, “Let’s hug and cry, but I’m not go­ing any­where. I’ll be around. I’ll be tweet­ing.”

Ap­pro­pri­ately, in the “about me” sec­tion of herTwit­ter ac­count, which has 124,000 fol­low­ers, she has writ­ten, “Are You There, Twit­ter? It’sMe, Judy.”

Brian van der Brug Los An­ge­les Times

JUDY BLUME’S

lat­est novel is full of ado­les­cents, although it’s for grown-ups. Still, she’s given her young fans per­mis­sion to read it.

Knopf

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