The Great Unexpected is a strange and magical story in which I was never entirely sure what was real and what was imagined. Two apparently separate storylines run alongside each other, one surrounding two elderly ladies in Ireland plotting some sort of grand revenge for who-knows-what, and one surrounding two odd little girls in the dusty little American town of Blackbird Tree, a town with what must surely be an abnormally high number of orphans, peculiar residents and unusual happenings.
It all begins when a body falls out of a tree and lands at Naomi’s feet. Who is this strange boy, Finn? Where did he come from and what is he doing in Blackbird Tree muttering about gold, rooks, and orchards? Finn himself is obviously somewhat unexpected, and a good number of other unexpected things take place in the following pages, some of them good and pleasant surprises, some of them sad ones, as Naomi and Lizzie both go about their daily lives whilst getting gradually more caught up in the mystery of Finn.
As for the unexpected events, they are each and every one, for the most part, entirely normal happenings, and yet Sharon Creech makes each one special and strange and magical, and exactly how she manages to do so is as much a mystery as many of the little connections flowing throughout the story are. I think perhaps life is full is full of mysterious and wondrous things, certainly if you take each thing at face value without trying to interpret or place too much emphasis on them, and Creech captures this feeling, this innocence, in her characters, especially the young ones, Naomi, Lizzie and Finn. They are able to turn the littlest, everyday things into something magical and special – an especial achievement for children whose lives are far from easy – and pass this on to the reader. Much like books by Neil Gaiman, you feel as if anything could happen inside this book, that everything is connected...
“I thought about all the things that had to have spun into place in order for us to be alive and for us to be right there, right then. I thought about the few things we thought we knew and the billions of things we couldn’t know, all spinning, whirling out there somewhere.” (pg. 219)
Meanwhile, what is this wondrous plan that old Mrs Kavanagh is cooking up across the ocean? What is her connection to Blackbird Tree? And, if any, is Finn’s connection to Mrs Kavanagh? The Great Unexpected is a slow burner of a story with a fairytale ending, an apt title, and a mysteriouser and mysteriouser middle. Strange yet lovely, and beautifully packaged.