Confession time: This is the first Judy Blume book I have ever read. I know that her other books exist, and that some are controversial, but until a fellow book-clubber gave me a summary of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, I could not have told you anything about it.
When this book came out, I was intrigued by the premise but not in any hurry to read it… until I needed some ideas for my book club and a friend in my other book club (so many book clubs, guys) recommended it. I put it on the list, picked up a copy early so I’d be able to finish it in time, and then promptly read it in three days with almost two weeks left before talking about it. Timing, I am bad at you.
But that’s really because this book was SO GOOD. I knew going in that there were going to be some plane crashes, so when I didn’t get a plane crash right at the beginning I was kind of impatiently waiting for one to show up, but I was interested enough in the characters (especially the main character, Miri) that when that first plane crash does happen I had almost forgotten to be on the lookout. This Judy Blume lady, she can write a book!
So yeah, there are plane crashes, and they’re actually real plane crashes that actually happened in the town Blume grew up in when she was growing up in it, and they must have left an indelible impression on that town, because I’m spooked out sixty years later just reading about them. And it seems I was tricked into reading historical fiction again, as the early-’50s setting is practically a character in the novel, dictating the way everyone interacts with each other and how they react to the planes and just how everyone exists. I learned so much about the history of air travel because of this book — not necessarily from the words on the page but from my curious Googling of “non-sked” flights and airlines. Those 1950s people, they were daredevils!
The novel uses these events as a way to look at life in the ’50s from a ton of different perspectives. The main character is Miri, a teenager just trying to get through high school and these plane crashes are not helping, and most of the other perspectives are tangential to her — her mother, her grandmother, her uncle, her friends and their families, and so on. We also get a few interludes from Miri’s uncle’s newspaper articles and from people who end up on the doomed flights, the latter of which are the saddest ever. Through these characters we get impressions of Issues like sexism and racism and wealth inequality and issues like growing up and loving people and finding out things you never wanted to know.
I think I may have liked this book more than everyone else in my book club, so maybe don’t take just my word on how wonderful this book is, but that’s definitely better than the other way around. I will just be over here, happy in my bubble of lovely sentences and characters and looking forward to more books that hit this particular chord in my heart.
Recommendation: For those who have finished the most recent Literally Big Literary Novel and need something a little smaller to think about.