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Review: Just One Day

January 25, 2013

Title: Just One Day
Author: Gayle Forman
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Release: January 8, 2013
Format: Purchased eBook

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.—via Goodreads

I was nervous about reading this.

Which is stupid. But, Forman’s books If I Stay and Where She Went did something weird to me and I was really afraid to read Just One Day.

What if I didn’t like it? What if it pissed me off? WHAT THEN?!

But, that is also a stupid way to look at books and authors because—I mean—Forman is a wonderful writer and I should’ve just trusted that this book would be great.

Even with all of that in mind, I read this book cautiously. And because of that it took me about half the book to warm up to it.

But once I did, all was well. And then once I finished and really had time to digest what I’d read, I realized how brilliant the book really is.

At it’s core, Just One Day is a story about growing. Learning. Becoming a person who can ebb and flow with life and all that it throws at you. But it takes a long while for the main character, Allyson, to get to that point, which is the beauty of the book.

In a lot of ways, I feel like this is a mod-podge of other books that I’ve enjoyed: The angst and depression of Charmed Thirds by Megan McCafferty; the diner culture from Speechless by Hannah Harrington; the determined, yet languorous European wanderlust of The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson. With that said, at no time does this book feel derivative of those others—it has best possible essences of those books, combining them in a way that creates a wholly new flavor and experience.

Travel plays a huge role in this book, and the ways Forman presents travel is smart. By pairing up an American and a Dutchman (Are they called Dutchmen? That just makes me think of The Flying Dutchmen which I assure you is not the same at all.) she’s able to showcase the inherently different views of not just travel, but how to live life. American Allyson wants things to be regimented, scheduled, planned, while Dutch Willem is laid-back, laissez-faire, I’ll-follow-the-wind-wherever-it-blows-me. And though they only spend a measly day together that ends in tears and devastation, Allyson knows that Willem has changed her for the better.

But then the book does something I really like—sends Allyson into a tail spin of depression during her first year of college. She’s dealing with her helicopter mother—whom I wanted to punch in the brain—the feeling of emotional distance from her childhood best friend, and realizing that her intended major in college is making her miserable. After meeting with the greatest college adviser ever, Allyson realizes that she needs to do things for herself. So she does. And once she starts making her own decisions is when she begins to grow out of her depression and into herself. It’s not an easy road, as she yearns for genuine experience but doesn’t want to let go of the control and order she’s used to. But once she realizes what it is that she wants, she goes for it full speed ahead.

This takes us on a wild ride of meeting some really great characters—her Shakespeare professor, her Shakespeare partner, Babs the diner owner, her French professor. All of that culminates in her traveling back to Europe, alone, to find  Willem. But as they say, it’s about the journey, not the destination, which is the essence of Just One Day.

Overall, this book is a sophisticated portrayal of growing up, taking hold of who you are, and confronting your fears head-on. If you’re looking for a richly plotted book full of realistic growing pains and armchair travel, this book is just the ticket.

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