Book Review: Just One Day by Gayle Forman
PROS:wonderfully wise musings on love and life; gorgeous prose; beautifully drawn characters
CONS:anxiety-making emotional cliffhanger
A magical story about losing yourself in a person and place for one magical day—and finding the person you are truly meant to be.
Gayle Forman’s last duet of books, If I Stay and Where She Went, are two of my all-time favorite contemporary YA novels, so reading her newest novel, Just One Day, was pretty much a foregone conclusion no matter what the book was about. When I read the synopsis and saw the cover, I knew I would have tacklehugged this book even if it wasn’t written by one of my favorite authors—the premise is so enticing. Girl meets guy in Paris, has the most magical, unforgettable day of her life, and wakes up to find him gone.
As a huge fan of Before Sunrise, a 90′s gem of a movie which follows Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as they spend one day falling for each other in Vienna, I was looking forward to Just One Day solely for the promise of a similar day of stimulating flirting and conversation, romantic tension, and foreign charm.
Allyson is on a group tour of Europe with her best friend Melanie, waiting for a Stratford-Upon-Avon Royal Shakespeare Company performance of Hamlet, when she meets Willem, an actor in a troupe of street performers on their way to put on a free show of Twelfth Night. She and Melanie ditch their group to watch the show, then continue on with their plans to return to London. When Allyson runs into Willem again the next day on the train, they talk in the dining car and spark a connection, and he invites her to spend a day with him in Paris, since she’s never been. The product of a helicopter mom and a strictly planned out life, this offer to abandon her plans and go exploring is both exhilarating and terrifying.
For the first time, Allyson does something she chooses to do, on a whim, and it is the most liberating experience of her life. For 24 hours, she is LuLu—the nickname Willem gives her because she looks like Louise Brooks with her new haircut—and she lets herself inhabit that person fully as she explores the city with him. Just One Day certainly delivered that magical day of romance and connection in a beautiful city I was seeking, and so much more.
Why I fell in love with Just One Day:
We spend one day being charmed by this hunk of a Dutchman, and most of the rest of the book trying to recover from our time with him alongside Allyson. Through Allyson’s eyes, Willem is charming, full of life, kind, generous and brave, and oh yeah, drop dead sexy. It’s not hard to see why she couldn’t quite get over the day they shared. In the year following, as Allyson tries to locate him, she knows it’s unlikely he could ever live up to the image she’s built in her mind—and while I objectively know this to be true, it’s kind of hard to remember that.
It’s unfair of me to declare that Willem is no Adam, because I haven’t heard Willem’s side of this day and year yet. I suspect after Just One Year, the companion novel from his perspective, my crush will be cemented.
Allyson aka LuLu
Willem charmed me, but I think the true character crush for me was Allyson. Her world is so regimented and vanilla before she jumps on that train to Paris—the first real act of self-agency in her life—and it opens a flood gate of possibility, newfound awareness and feeling. She can’t go back to the person she was before, at least not happily. Allyson may have been in love with Willem, but so much of loving someone is how that person makes you feel about yourself, and I think Allyson was probably more in love with LuLu, the braver, bolder person she was for that one beautiful day. Her devastation at losing Willem the next morning is nothing compared to losing LuLu.
This book is not about a girl chasing a guy down to the ends of the earth because he completes her, or about a girl who can’t get over a brief encounter because she’s sad and desperate. It’s about a girl who meets someone who changes her life by giving her an experience, and slowly over the course of the next year, she lets that experience seep into her life and change her for the better. Allyson needed an electric jolt to remind her that she is alive and in charge of her own life, and that only she can live it. Watching her grow into this new person is incredibly satisfying.
Paris, je t’aime.
(And Amsterdam and Utrecht, you are pretty crush-worthy too).
If I could have a compilation of my favorite authors writing their characters’ experiences abroad, accompanied by maps and helpful travel tips, I would SO chunk my Lonely Planet guides and take that on my next trip.
Forman writes a Paris that’s not found in the guidebooks—a more intimate city full of serendipity and danger and excitement; and real city dwellers, not just fellow tourists. Paris is more than a collection of postcard sights and touristy prix fixe meals in this book—it is a fully realized character of its own, with lovely and horrible parts all meshed together and presented to the reader honestly. Not everyone will fall head over heels with this Paris, but I did.
Willem and Allyson take up most of the emotional real estate in this novel, with a few well-drawn characters to love and loathe claiming the rest. When Allyson finally begins to open up to people, and overcome her post-trip malaise, she makes friends at school and during her travels.
The standout for me is definitely Dee, a guy who could easily join the ranks of Shakespeare’s many masquerading characters. He changes his face to suit whatever obvious expectations people have for him, but shows his truest self to Allyson. While I have the highest of hopes, I really don’t know if Willem and Allyson will ultimately have a lasting relationship, but I am sure Dee and Allyson’s friendship will endure.
Any author who can effectively and smoothly weave the Bard’s plays into their novel deserves serious kudos. Some of my favorite Shakespeare plays make cameos in various forms, as they are performed, studied, and paralleled in the story. Forman brings a contemporary insight into some of my favorite characters, and it is just the kind of additional book nerd candy to ensure I’ll be re-reading this book in the near future.
Gayle Forman can write about the most overwritten places and experiences—Paris, lust, love, self-discovery, and growing pains in personal relationships—and make it feel like this is the first time a person has experienced them. Her prose is never labored or showy, but graceful and evocative and rich with emotion.
She can bring the swoon…
As if disconnected to the rest of my body, my hand raises in the air and goes to touch his cheek. But before it arrives, Willem’s hand whips around and grabs my wrist. For one confused second, I think I’ve misread the situation again, am about to be refused. Willem holds my wrist for a long moment, looking at that birthmark. Then he lifts it to his mouth. And though his lips are soft and his kiss is gentle, it feels like a knife jamming into the electrical socket. It feels like the moment I go live.
and the wise musings…
You’re just trying on different identities, like everyone in those Shakespeare plays. And the people we pretend at, they’re already in us. That’s why we pretend them in the first place.
and the foreign charm….
C’est courageux d’aller dans l’inconnu: It is courageous to go into territory unknown.
…and oh so much more, but I don’t want to take the pleasure of discovering any more lines away. READ IT. Seriously, you won’t be disappointed.
Just One Day is a love letter to Paris, to discovering hidden facets of a city and yourself, and to being an active and engaged participant in your own life. Yes, it’s also a love story—one that feels at times doomed, and other times full of endless possibility. Whether you’ve had the chance to travel abroad or not, this is a read that ignites those wonderful wanderlust feelings, that often have nothing to do with actual destinations.
Just One Day blog tour & read-a-thon
Check back with us on Wednesday, when we’ll have Gayle Forman by the blog to share some of her own travel experiences!
Also, make sure to mark your calendar for a Just One Day 24 hour read-a-thon! There will be prizes, a Twitter chat with Gayle Forman, and tons of online fun as we read the book in just one day.
For fans of: