Author: Gayle Forman
Publication Date: 1/8/2013
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Blurb: 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!
Just One Day is a story of self-discovery sandwiched between the romance-heavy beginning and end, two stories in one if you will. High school graduate Allyson meets an amateur Dutch actor Willem during her post-HS culture tour of Europe and with a spontaneity unnatural to her throws away all her caution and embarks on a day trip to Paris with him. They spend a day (and night) together, and then it's over, abruptly. Allyson goes back home then, starts college and succumbs to ennui. Her already depressed state is made even more severe by hardships in college, intense helicopter parenting and lack of friends. But her experiences during that one day in Paris eventually encourage her to change her life in a major way and go back to Paris...
Melancholy. Sad. Depressing. These are the words that were constantly on my mind while reading Just One Day. I am not sure a tone like this can work for me for an entire romance story. I obviously like some drama, if I enjoyed Forman's very tragic previous novels (If I Stay and Where She Went), but even those books were based on a love story that started out as charming, happy, romantic, swoony. In Just One Day, on the other hand, it's all doom and gloom and sadness, from the beginning till the very end. I am sure I would have liked Just One Day more if the romance were more uplifting, interesting. I found it hard to care for Allyson and Willem. Allyson is a dull, passive narrator. Willem lacks charisma, charm, sexiness, humor even. Their one day in Paris is not romantic or fun in any way. I attribute my negative impression of this day trip to the flashbacks of Taken running through my mind and my concern for Allyson's safety, and to the general grimness of the whole European adventure. (While I do not doubt the accuracy of Forman's depiction of Europe, this depiction is just depressing, to exactly match the novel's overall dark mood. How can one be so miserable in a midst of so much diversity, culture, excitement and freedom? I don't get it.) If I had the experiences in Paris Allyson had in this novel, I would have considered such extended date a complete failure and a waste of time, and nobody would have gotten laid by the end of it. But this one day has a great effect on Allyson, and this part of the novel I never quite accepted or understood.
Because I mostly felt indifferent towards the romance frame of this self-discovery story, the middle portion of the book felt more compelling to me. It is especially compelling if you are looking for books with those notorious "new adult" experiences - exploration of life after high school, learning how to be independent from your parents, choosing an educational path that suits you and not people around you, finding new friends, getting your first job. I liked most of this middle, except maybe the part where Allyson handles her schooling - I don't believe that taking pottery classes instead of pre-med classes while your parents are paying $40K a year for your school is a responsible and mature thing to do, even if it makes you happy. (My philosophy is - don't trifle with other people's money, you can get your pottery classes for $80 at your local community college.) But Allyson's struggles with her parents and her diving into new friendships were the highlights for me.
It is hard to give this book a fair assessment, because so much of my dissatisfaction with this novel rests on my personal taste in YA romance. On a technical level, Just One Day is well written. For me as an opinionated reader, however, this story felt lackluster, with its unjustified main character's ennui, realistic, but grim portrayal of various European countries and unconvincing romance. I would pick Anna and the French Kiss over this novel any day. It's just much, much more fun. There HAS to be some fun in any romance, am I right?