A beloved author returns with a novel built around a series of real-life plane crashes in her youth.
Within 58 days in the winter of 1951-'52, three aircraft heading into or outbound from Newark Airport crashed in the neighboring town of Elizabeth, New Jersey, taking 116 lives. Blume (Summer Sisters, 1998, etc.), who was a teenager there at the time, has woven a story that mingles facts about the incidents and the victims—among them, Robert Patterson, secretary of war under Truman—with the imagined lives of several families of fictional characters. Though it's not always clear where truth ends and imagination begins, the 15-year-old protagonist, Miri Ammerman, is a classic Blume invention. Miri lives with her single mother, Rusty, her grandmother Irene, and her uncle Henry, a young journalist who makes his reputation reporting on the tragedies for the Elizabeth Daily Post. In addition to the crashes, one of which she witnesses firsthand, Miri faces drama with her mom, her best friend, the adviser of her school newspaper, and her first real boyfriend, an Irish kid who lives in an orphanage. Nostalgic details of life in the early '50s abound: from 17-inch Zeniths ("the biggest television Miri had ever seen") to movie-star haircuts ("She looked older, but nothing like Elizabeth Taylor") to popular literature—"Steve was reading that new book The Catcher in the Rye. Christina had no idea what the title meant. Some of the girls went on dates to Staten Island, where you could be legally served at 18....The Catcher in the Rye and Ginger Ale." The book begins and ends with a commemorative gathering in 1987, giving us a peek at the characters' lives 35 year later, complete with shoulder pads and The Prince of Tides.
Though it doesn't feel much like an adult novel, this book will be welcomed by any Blume fan who can handle three real tragedies and a few four-letter words.