Interview: Judy Blume, Author Of 'In The Unlikely Event' In the Unlikely Event is beloved YA author Judy Blume's first novel for adults in 17 years — it's centered on a series of plane crashes that really happened in her home town in the early 1950s.

A New Judy Blume Novel For Adults Is Always An 'Event'

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Judy Blume, the incomparable writer for young adults, has a new novel for adult adults about how something totally unexpected - people falling from the sky - can change people for life in ways they might only see when they're grown. "In The Unlikely Event" is a story told by a chorus of voices, most of them young, in Elizabeth, N.J., when Miri and Rusty - a daughter and a mother - see and feel a fireball fall from the sky. We'll let the author take over here.

JUDY BLUME: (Reading) When Miri opened her eyes, she saw feet - dozens of feet. And at first she was so disoriented, she didn't know where she was. She couldn't hear anything. There was a ringing in her ears. From every direction, people were running toward the flames that were shooting up, toward the thing that had crashed and was burning in the frozen bed of the Elizabeth River. Rusty helped Miri to her feet. Go home and tell Nana we're OK, she shouted, hurry. Rusty gave her a gentle shove. Go Miri. She ran for home. Her feet were numb in her saddle shoes. Snot ran down her face and froze on her upper lip, on her chin, as she rounded the corner of Ser (ph) Street and raced up the front steps. Nana, she called, bursting into the house, Nana, where are you? Nana, she shouted. Nana. She found her under the dining room table. A bomb? Irene asked. No, Miri told her, something crashed in the river. They say it's a plane. Irene clutched her chest. Miri grabbed her pills from the kitchen counter. Irene put one under her tongue. Rusty? She asked. She's OK. Thank God.

SIMON: Judy Blume joins us in our studios in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

BLUME: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: That's very vivid. You grew up in Elizabeth, N.J. Is this your story?

BLUME: It's not my story, but I was 14 years old the winter of 1951 - 1952, when this bizarre thing happened.

SIMON: Three plane crashes?

BLUME: Three in a row in 58 days. But you know, it's not what the book is about. It's about how unlikely events can happen to us at any time and how they change our lives and how when even tragedy strikes, we go on. Because as my father used to say all the time, life goes on. Life is for the living. You have to live every day.

SIMON: So Miri, the ninth-grade Jewish girl who's at the center of this story, she is not you?

BLUME: No. The character who's most based on a true character from my life is Doctor O., the dentist, who is very - you know, I like these dental heroes in my books because I adored my father and he was a dentist.

SIMON: Yeah.

BLUME: And he was one of the dentists called in to help identify victims by dental records because that's what they had in those days. There was no DNA.

SIMON: It's interesting, major air crashes even - well, more than ever, major air crashes can be a huge story today. And that set-off concerns about terrorist plots and sabotage and what unfathomable new technologies - you're pointing at me.

BLUME: I'm pointing at you because while the boys in junior high school - this is why Miri had to still be in junior high school - because the boys in junior high school were very into aliens and flying saucers and...

SIMON: Had to be the reason, right?

BLUME: Yes. But the smart girls, the little group of smart girls - and I wanted to be with them - said - I guess one smart girl said - it's sabotage. And that was such a sexy, sophisticated word, not that we knew what it was, or not that we knew who it was who was committing sabotage upon us. We didn't know. But it was clear to us that whoever it was, they were out to get the kids because, you know, each of these planes fell either very close to a school or, you know, fell into the field of the only orphanage in town. So it was like, of course it had to be about us, we were kids. So they are out to get us, while the adults, you know, were looking for their own reasons - Communists, Communists were coming and making this happen somehow.

SIMON: Do you think it makes your characters a little more carefree or careless even? I'm thinking about the determination of one of the characters - not to die a virgin.

BLUME: Well, one - yeah, I don't blame her.

SIMON: (Laughter).

BLUME: I don't blame her. I mean, I don't think that's why she did what she did. But I think after she said, well - I don't want to do any spoilers here. But afterwards, she said, well, at least I won't die a virgin. Which was a very big thing. I mean, in the early '50s, you know...

SIMON: Judy, I'm the father of two daughters. It's a very big thing now. (Laughter).

BLUME: Well, it's - it was different because the choices you made in the early '50s, when I was coming of age, were choices that could change your life forever. And I knew a couple of girls, top girls, in my graduating class in high school who were pregnant at graduation. Nobody knew it, but we learned after it. And their lives were changed forever.

SIMON: Are 14 and 15-year-olds older now because of a lot of different circumstances than they were in the times you're talking about, in the 1950s?

BLUME: When I was that age, starting at 12 really and onward, I was reading adult books. And everything that I was curious about about the adult world, I learned from reading those books. I got from them some idea of what it was like to be grown up, which is what I was very, very curious about. So are they different today? Yeah, I suppose they are. Are they more mature? Are they - I'm not sure about that. I don't know. I mean, you know, the early '50s, it was a different time. People would say it was a much more innocent time.

SIMON: But you read this book, it's...

BLUME: I'm not sure that it was at all a more innocent time. I don't think so. I think we didn't talk about it. And you know, we didn't see it. We weren't bombarded by stuff all the time.

SIMON: Something occurs to me as we're sitting here. This is your first book for adults in a number of years, right?

BLUME: So I'm told.

SIMON: (Laughter).

BLUME: Seventeen, to be precise.

SIMON: Seventeen.

BLUME: But, you know, it's not like I've been sitting around doing nothing (laughter), so, it's like, I'm defensive. No - I've been working. I wrote a lot of children's books. I made a movie. I did a lot of things.

SIMON: Well, there are people who read your books for young adults 25, 30 years ago, who are now - forgive me for saying 25 or 30 years ago.

BLUME: Well - no, no, no, no. I mean, my daughter - my children were the first generation who grew up reading my books. And so - early '50s.

SIMON: And now they read this one. You have written for them all of their lives.

BLUME: I don't know if you know that my daughter became a commercial airline pilot? And when - and she's a reader and so she read an early draft of this book - and she said, Mother, how could you never have told me this story? I never told anybody this story. You know, I tell everybody everything. But that story again lived so deep inside me. I'm so glad it's out. I'm so glad the book is finished.

SIMON: Judy Blume, her new novel, "In The Unlikely Event." Thanks so much for being with us.

BLUME: Thank you, Scott, for having me.

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