How perplexing. Judy Blume is basically a national treasure, with an international fan base in the tens of millions and a bibliography of more than two dozen beloved books published over the last half-century, and yet a mere three adaptations have been attempted by Hollywood — a 1978 TV movie based on the author’s perennially controversial 1975 novel Forever, a short-lived mid-1990s ABC series built around the characters introduced in her 1972 novel, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and a small 2012 feature film inspired by her 1981 novel Tiger Eyes. That’s it, despite classics such as Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, Freckle Juice, and Blubber just sitting there in her hugely popular oeuvre.
It’s true that one of Blume’s hallmarks is her eagerness to address challenging topics that invite debate about what is suitable content for young readers, and a lot of it, apparently, is still too hot to touch even in our more permissive era. But in addition to her picture books and stories for middle-grade and young-adult audiences, she’s also written a handful of books for adults, including Wifey (1978), Smart Women (1983), Summer Sisters (1998), and her newest novel, In the Unlikely Event, which just landed in stores. Wifey was clearly a freeing exercise for Blume, who took advantage of the lack of age-appropriate constraints to turn out a sex-drenched, anti-romantic, “Ice Storm” kind of narrative. But the others explore realistic family dramas and the shifting nature of friendship just as her kids’ classics do, only with divorcees and estranged former childhood friends at their center instead of confused middle-schoolers.
Unlikely Event mixes the two, and has a gripping hook that could easily be exploited in a movie. It’s based on strange but real events that Blume experienced in the early 1950s, when three airplanes crashed near her New Jersey hometown in the span of a few months. In the fictional version, the author shifts among many narrators and two time frames: adult characters in 1987 forced to looked back thirty-five years at the childhoods that were irrevocably changed by that terrible moment. It’s been seven years since Blume’s previous release, the longest gap between books in her career. Now, with the release of her latest, this seems a perfect time to make a great TV or film adaptation of her work a more likely event.