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 a surprising book, it’s warm and charming, but also unexpectedly powerful. From the title, I thought I knew what the entire book would be about: a girl falls in love in a day, and the couple triumphs amongst naysayers who claim you can’t love someone without “knowing” them. But Gayle Forman’s Just One Day is so much more than that. Just One Day isn’t about romance (don’t worry, there’s a bunch of that too) so much as about a reserved girl learning who she is, and who she wants to be. And the growth you see in Allyson, aka Lulu is what makes Just One Day shine brightly.
Admittedly, I tend to put off YA contemporary novels in favor of sci-fi, dystopian, or apocalyptic fiction. But with all the love this book has been getting from so many readers, I had to check it out (that and because summer sounds like the season for light-hearted contemporary novels.) What draws me away from YA contemporary novels is its tendency to focus on romance and overdramatic angst. Too much of it makes me weary and sucks the interest out of me like a giant octopus. Thankfully, Just One Day didn’t do that. I was eager to follow Allyson’s travels, but Forman didn’t need landmarks to reel me into Allyson’s personal journey to self-discovery.
Story, Pacing, Romance:
What made Just One Day so special was that it was beyond my expectations. When I saw the title, I thought to myself, “I know EXACTLY how this is going to go down. It’s going to be four hundred pages about one day in a foreign country. And at the end, the guy probably disappears like Cinderella for the sake of having a cliffhanger.” Eighty pages in, I thought, “Wait! The eponymous one day is ending! What’s the next three-hundred and something pages going to be about now?” It is those three-hundred something pages that made me fall in love with the story despite being nothing about love. I was invested in the story because I wanted to see Allyson grow and find herself. Make new friends, discover new hobbies, AND MOVE ON.
Allyson Who Not Do Well On Chatroulette:
Allyson was a frustrating character for me throughout the novel, especially in the beginning. I figure it’s because while my personality is like Allyson (“safe” and reserved,) my outlook on life is a lot closer to Willem, where I see joy in accidents. Which would also explain my relationship with Chatroulette and Omegle, websites that allow me to chat with random strangers. There’s this romantic idea of sharing a transient conversation with a complete stranger, to “meet” people you’d never otherwise meet. And when the conversation is finished, we walk our separate ways (though I rarely do give out my email.) There’s also a comfort in being able to “disconnect” people. I also believe if something is meant to be, it will happen–and to move on and look for the next door if it isn’t.
Allyson clearly doesn’t share this sentiment. If she was on Omegle, I can just imagine her feelings being hurt every five seconds when somebody disconnects. It is frustrating for me to see Allyson mope around and put her life on a standstill because she of a guy she met for ONE DAY. And that one day didn’t even end well (but seriously, you’re EIGHTEEN, not five. You shouldn’t be having a breakdown because you are lost.) You met a wonderful, charming guy. Had the time of your life (at least to you.) Wonderful! Now treasure those memories, and MOVE ON. YOUR LIFE SHOULDN’T REVOLVE AROUND ONE GUY. You can’t get greedy and expect every day to be just as magical. And how are you supposed to find the next great guy if you are moping around all depressed and emo? How are you supposed to meet the next person to change your life if nobody even wants to be within 5 feet of you?
Allyson’s negativity in two thirds of the novel made me wince. Thankfully, when Allyson sets out on her mission back to Paris that I started regaining excitement for the book. Allyson shows that when she puts her mind to a task–she can do it. I can relate to Allyson as she struggles to become an adult: forced to figure out what she wants to do with her life, or how to find a your first job with no working experience and in a bad economy, all without the support of family.
Setting (Are We Really in France?)
For a book that’s centered around traveling, I expected more in the milieu department. Maybe I just don’t associate being chased by gangsters and making out in an abandoned art studio to France. Eh. I felt Forman’s use of “trivial” moments to introduce France was a very different perspective. The boat rides, and the free bikes–it makes me jealous (though I would get severely sea sick on a boat and it would not be pretty.)
Overall, I highly, highly recommend Just One Day. Despite being released in start of a new year, I can foresee this book somewhere on my best books of the year list. It’s one of those books that don’t look like much from the cover, but under the cover lies a great story about a girl who has to figure out who she is. Also, this novel made me want to eat macarons. (WHY ARE THEY SO EXPENSIVE?!?)