The Great Unexpected

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
The Great Unexpected Book Poster Image
Romantic tale blends fantasy, reality, family mystery.

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Kids say

age 9+
Based on 3 reviews

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn about Irish legends and folk tales. They'll also get a glimpse at the circumstances surrounding Irish emigration to the United States; we don't know what year Nula moved from her home in Ireland to America, but we do know about the impoverished and vulnerable state she was in when she left. The novel also shows a bit about living on a farm.

Positive Messages

The Great Unexpected delivers several meaningful messages: Sisterhood -- between blood sisters or best friends -- is more important than a romantic crush. The elderly deserve respect as well as help. We are all connected. Life is full of mystery, and life can change in a moment.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Naomi and Lizzie are orphans, but they receive love and guidance from adults in their lives. Lizzie learns from church leader Mrs. Mudkin to be kind and helpful to "poor unfortunate souls"  -- even though the woman sometimes assumes that help is wanted when it's not. Nula and Joe give Naomi a loving home; they teach her to be responsible and capable and treat her like part of their family.


A boy falls out of a tree. Naomi has a deformed arm as a result of being attacked by a dog, which also attacked Naomi's father. It's mentioned that a character shot and killed a dog. A characters is found bloodied and lying in the road. A young man holds a shotgun in his lap.


Naomi describes coming close to Finn's face and kissing his hand.


A couple of older people in Blackbird Tree town are called "crazy" and "witch."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Great Unexpected, by Newbery Award-winning author Sharon Creech, blends fantasy and realistic fiction to tell a mysterious family tale that takes place partly in America, partly in Ireland. Creech uses simple, lyrical language, but the blurring of fantasy and reality and the gradual unfolding of the plot could make this book challenging for readers under 9. The narrator, Naomi, and her best friend, Lizzie, are both orphans, and one girl worries about being "homeless" and having to live in a cardboard box, but neither girl is ever in danger of being abandoned. There are a few violent images in the book, including a description of a young girl and her father being attacked by a dog.

User Reviews

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Written byAnonymous May 9, 2014

Bland, awful plotline

Everything is appropriate in this book, but the content is horrible. I thought Sharon Creech was supposed to be good, but I guess I was wrong with this one. The... Continue reading

What's the story?

Sharon Creech's THE GREAT UNEXPECTED is narrated by Naomi, an orphan, about age 12, who lives in a small (fictional) American town called Blackbird Tree with her guardians, Nula and Joe. One day, Naomi encounters the mysterious Finn, a boy who seems to be injured after falling from a tree. Finn stirs romantic and possessive feelings in Naomi and threatens to cause a rift between Naomi and her best friend, Lizzie, who's also an orphan. Meanwhile, across the ocean in Ireland, an elderly lady seems to be hatching all sorts of plans that may or may not involve people in Blackbird Tree. And the stories Nula tells about the love that came between her and her sister sound awfully familiar. As the plot unfolds, Naomi, Lizzie, and Nula learn about their connections to the places and people they came from and make peace with their personal histories.

Is it any good?

The Great Unexpected is a beautiful puzzle of a book that's revealed piece by piece. In charming and simple yet lyrical language, Creech creates parallels between characters who are at once fantastical and essential to show the ways in which people of every generation are similar and connected. Do three generations of women, in two different countries, all really fall in love with the same boy? Maybe, maybe not, but they certainly all feel love -- and the same brokenhearted disappointments.

This is a sweet, romantic novel with a wonderful mystery that's revealed with care and sensitivity. Creech has written a lovely, old-fashioned sort of book about universal feelings and characters.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the way the author blends and blurs fantasy writing with realistic fiction. What parts of the book are "real"? Is Finn real?

  • Why do you think the "poor unfortunate souls" are often annoyed by the girls' offer of help?

  • Why is Joe's story about the donkey so important in this book? Why does that story scare Naomi?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age stories

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