The Great Unexpected
(2012), a young adult novel by Newberry Award-winning American author Sharon Creech tells a dual narrative, one involving two orphan children and another involving two adult sisters who grow apart. In its review of The Great Unexpected
, The New York Times
writes, "Many of the most beloved children’s books ask these questions by treading lightly on reality, allowing young readers to wade ankle-deep in the joys and agonies of being human without sinking into existential muck. The Great Unexpected
does just that."
In one narrative, Naomi Deane and Lizzie Scatterding are preteen orphans and best friends living in the small American town of Blackbird Tree in an unspecified part of the United States. As they attempt to cope with the trauma of losing their respective parents, Naomi and Lizzie experience strange happenings tinged with a sense of magical realism as if the reader is supposed to interpret these occurrences as manifestations of the girls' emotions. For example, early in the narrative, an Irish boy falls from the sky unhurt and proceeds to have a conversation with Naomi and Lizzie. In fact, the girls seem to be surrounded by ghosts that might be real or fanciful visions conjured by the orphans. Characters such as Crazy Cora, Witch Wiggins, and the Dingle Dangle Man emerge and recede as the narrative progresses.
Meanwhile, a parallel story is told involving Sybil and Nula, two elderly sisters living in Rook's Orchard, Ireland. It is suggested that the two have been estranged for some time; presently they reunite only to argue endlessly about murderous revenge and lost inheritances.
Back in Blackbird Tree, the orphans learn that the boy who fell from the tree is named Finn. The divergent personalities of Naomi and Lizzie also take shape. Clear-eyed and skeptical, Naomi is also filled to the brim with curiosity. Lizzie, on the other hand, has a far rosier vision of the world, despite the terrible traumatic losses they both experienced. Naomi's mother passed away while giving birth to her, while her father died of an infection caused by a dog bite he suffered while trying to protect his daughter from the animal. As a result, Naomi feels a significant amount of guilt over the loss of her father, leading her to adopt a far more pessimistic view of the world than Lizzie.
Although Naomi is very tough, Finn breaks through her hard exterior. After figuring out that she is attracted to him, Naomi experiences her first kiss with Finn. Unfortunately, Lizzie barges in to ruin the moment. Naomi wonders how she can love Lizzie like a sister, and yet at the same time wish for that person to disappear forever. This runs parallel to the deeply acrimonious sisterhood of Sybil and Nula. In the end, it is revealed that Sybil and Nula became estranged over their shared affection for a man named Paddy McCoul. Paddy had a son named Finnbar who died after falling from a tree. Nula finally emerges in a younger form caring for the two girls.The Great Unexpected
is a delicate tale of childhood trauma told with marvelous touches of magical realism.