Author: Gayle Forman
Series: Just One Day #1
Release Date: 8 January 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, Romance, Young Adult (YA)
Source: Borrowed from the Public Library
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A breathtaking journey toward self-discovery and true love, from the author of If I Stay
When sheltered American good girl Allyson "LuLu" Healey first meets laid-back Dutch actor Willem De Ruiter at an underground performance of Twelfth Night in England, there’s an undeniable spark. After just one day together, that spark bursts into a flame, or so it seems to Allyson, until the following morning, when she wakes up after a whirlwind day in Paris to discover that Willem has left. Over the next year, Allyson embarks on a journey to come to terms with the narrow confines of her life, and through Shakespeare, travel, and a quest for her almost-true-love, to break free of those confines.
Just One Day is the first in a sweepingly romantic duet of novels. Willem’s story—Just One Year—is coming soon!
Most people are going to fawn over Willem, and I agree, he’s the quintessential European dream boy.* Most of the reviews I’ve seen focus mostly on Willem and their trip and their butterflies, and while I agree it was all very cute and fuzzy, the true strength of the book comes after that.
It was the return from her life-changing journey and the aftermath of Allyson’s heartbreak that made this book for me. Sounds weird, right? I’m not evil (or at least, not more evil than you’re used to me being), but I enjoyed that Forman showed that Allyson’s life after this trip wasn’t exactly happy. She dealt with feelings of shame at being taken in by a charming foreign hottie. She dealt with heartbreak at getting no closure, no goodbye, no tearful farewell. Allyson went off to college and for once in her life, she failed. The rule-following, un-impulsive “AP automaton” was gone, but she struggled to care about classes. She had a hard time fitting in with her outgoing, spunky roommates. Like so many of us who have gone off to college, she had to learn who she was and how to deal with stress without the parental safety net, and Allyson cracked. I found this portrayal very refreshing, because while she struggled, she didn’t give up. Allyson’s uber-controlling mom doesn’t help matters: she comes to visit and redecorates Allyson’s dorm room, brings her new clothes, and picks out all of her classes and her major. You can practically feel Allyson crumbling under the weight of her parents’ expectations and her mother’s overwhelming control. Allyson did kind of annoy me here with the whole “woe is me” attitude. She never spoke up for herself, never expressed a preference, and then suddenly, all her discontent bursts out of her all at once. Didn’t you ever hear it’s not healthy to bottle up your emotions, girl?
In her Shakespeare class, Allyson meets Dee – an out and proud, quirky young man who obviously does not give two craps what people think of him. I loved Dee, his flamboyant personality and his willingness to call Allyson on her crap. When her parents come to visit, Allyson cancels their regular study time. Dee shows up anyway, but as a toned down, sweater wearing “respectable” guy, totally calling her on her “perfect daughter with perfect friends” charade. Allyson has to grow up and apologize, and honestly, watching her navigate her friendship with Dee and grow stronger because of his support was the best part of the novel. I’m probably weird for saying that the ROMANCE and all the PARIS wasn’t the best part, but for me, it wasn’t. Allyson grew so much more because once her heart was broken, Dee helped her figure out how to put it back together. She decides to try and find Willem and ask him why he left, and this is where she finally stands up for herself and starts making her own choices. Once again, Allyson makes new friends at a part-time job and works her butt off to scrape together enough money to go back to Europe. She knows what she wants, and she’s not expecting to hand it to her, and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen. I love her attitude in this, and I LOVE that she’s finally stating her preferences, taking a stand, and being brave even though it infuriates her mom.
Repeatedly throughout Just One Day, Allyson is faced with situations where she is out of her comfort zone, she has no safety net, and she has to decide: make new friends, do something scary, make her own decisions, or do what she’s always done, follow the itinerary someone else has made, and live a “picture perfect” life filled with scrapbookable memories.
I was so pleasantly surprised by this book and really enjoyed it. I’m curious to see Willem’s side of the story in Just One Year!
*Between this and Maureen Johnson’s “Little Blue Envelope” series, I’m pretty much convinced that if I ever get to travel to Europe, I’m sure to meet lots of nice, English-speaking people who will go on grand adventures with me, try new foods, encourage me to be impulsive, and then breeze out of my life as quickly as they came. Books will almost certainly let me down in this, and I’ll end up on the news as that American who got lost and had several embassies in a tizzy.