Review: The Great Unexpected

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Title: The Great Unexpected

ThirdGradeAngels250 Author: Sharon Creech

Themes: Family Life, Friendship, Magical Realism, Overcoming Fears, Romance, Self-Awareness/Discovery, Siblings

Published: 2012, 240 pages

'Sweet' book summary:
Reviewer: Melissa G.

According to Sharon Creech, the idea behind The Great Unexpected was sparked by three things: a question she posed to a group of school students about the "unexpected," the way young people move so comfortably from reality to fantasy, and her interest in coincidences and the ways in which we are all connected.

These concepts merge beautifully in The Great Unexpected where Ms. Creech weaves a memorable tale.

Readers first meet Naomi Deane, a young girl of about 12 years of age, as she encounters a most unexpected surprise. A young boy, who turns out to be the mysterious Finn, falls from a tree, right at her feet. Naomi and her friend, Lizzie, both orphans, are stunned and somewhat awed by young Finn. Living in a small, remote American town, Blackbird Tree, chance encounters like this one don't come along very often, but this serendipitous meeting sparks a series of unusual coincidences.

It turns out that Naomi's guardian, Nula, once loved a boy named Finn, too. Naomi's Finn and Nula even have the same odd way of speaking, at least to Naomi's ears. Naomi and Lizzie also find an unexpected connection to each other. When they open some old trunks that had been stored for years in the barn, they discover that Lizzie's deceased mother was the one who had cared for Naomi when she was attacked by a dog, years before Lizzie and Naomi had even met.

At the same time as Naomi and Lizzie are getting to know the enchanting "Finn boy" and learning a little bit about themselves, across the ocean in Ireland, a concurrent story is unfolding in which an older woman, Sybil, reflects on her own unrequited love and seems to ponder her revenge. How are the two stories related? Oh, in so many intricate and meticulously crafted ways, like the fact that (spoiler alert!) Sybil is actually Nula's estranged sister and they had both long ago fallen in love with a boy named Finn!

There are quite a few quirky characters to remember, but even those mentioned only briefly manage to take form and spring to life. In addition, Sharon Creech's beautiful prose creates a soothing, lilting rhythm that feels something like gliding across the waves on a boat, as it drifts steadily toward shore. The magical elements blend seamlessly with reality, and the story raises some interesting ideas about life, love, family and relationships. Should we embrace or fear the unexpected? Can we overcome our fears? What role does destiny play in our lives? What consequences do our lies have? When one door closes, does another open? What else exists beyond the boundaries of your home or community?

Enjoy this excerpt from the prologue In which Naomi's guardian, Joe, tells her a story about a poor man who wins a donkey and discovers that he can pull all kinds of things out of its magic ears:
"Sensing my fear, Joe would say, "It's only a story, Naomi, only a story."... "And so each time the poor man would reach into the donkey's ears, i would tell myself, I'm not in the story, I'm not in the story, but it didn't help because a story was only interesting if I was in the story."


What You Need to Know:
  • Using magical realism, two stories of love and loss are separated by years and miles until the tiny threads that bind them are carefully sewn together.
  • The chapters shift back and forth between the story in the United States and the one in Ireland. To help readers keep track, a different font is used for each location.
  • Twelve-year-old, Naomi, experiences the strong emotions that come with first love, while the older women look back on their own heartaches with the sensibility that comes with age.
  • Naomi has an intense fear of dogs, and one scene describes how a dog attacked her and her father.
  • Naomi discovers the body of her guardian, Joe, who had suffered a heart attack.
  • Short chapters keep the pages flipping quickly.
If you liked this book, try:
  • The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan
  • The Willoughby's by Lois Lowry
  • One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street by Joanne Rocklin
  • The Flint Heart by Katherine and John Paterson
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