Book Review: Just One Day by Gayle Forman

12842115Just One Day
by Gayle Forman
January 8, 2013
Dutton Juvenile
320 pages
Source: Around the World ARC Tours

Synopsis

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! (Goodreads Summary.


* Guys, I love to add quotes and excerpts. Especially when they speak to me like Forman’s did in Just One Day. 
But please know going in that this is an ARC review.
 Quotes and excerpts have been taken from an unfinished copy and therefore may change before the final print*

Opening Line

What if Shakespeare had it wrong? 

My Take On It

Before I get started on this review, let me first say that when I began this blog, nearly one year ago, I primarily read paranormal/ supernatural and dystopian YA. I had read a little bit of contemporary YA, but for the most part I skipped it. I thought that someone like me, who had left her teenage years behind a long time ago, was going to have a hard time relating to a contemporary realistic YA book.  I think the first YA book I read that made me feel differently  was John Green’s An Abundance of Katherine’s. Then I read Melina Marchetta’s Saving Francesca and soon after Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss. Well, needless to say,  I WAS DEAD WRONG in my views of Contemporary YA.  Not only can I relate, but I have come to LOVE it. In fact, most of the books I have read over the last year that have meant so much to me (The Sky is Everywhere, Small Damages,Wanderlove, Saving June) fall into this genre.

In addition, I was introduced to the New Adult genre this year, an offshoot of YA that focuses on the important time when a young adult has finished high school and is moving into the adult world. I love New Adult because it focuses on a time of self discovery in a young person’s life. A time of new freedom and independence which can be exciting but also scary. It’s a time in my life that holds some of my fondest memories.

Just One Day is a book that encompasses all the best qualities of both YA and New Adult fiction. It is a book that focuses on themes like self discovery and personal identity. It’s a book that looks at changing relationships between parents and daughters as well as between close friends. Just One Day is a book that examines college life and traveling abroad. And it is also a book that looks at first love, love at first sight, connections and bonds formed over a short period of time,  and the concept of destiny and fate. Just One Day is a book about choices and a book about trust. To me it is the quintessential coming of age story, written as only Gayle Forman could  write it. I thought If I Stay was an incredible book, and I loved the sequel Where She Went even more. Just One Day tops them both.  Just when I thought I couldn’t be more amazed by this talented author, she raises the bar yet again.

As Just One Day opens, following an awesome and very relevant excerpt from Shakespeare’s comedy, As You Like It , we are introduced to Allyson, a recent high school graduate who is wrapping up a trip to Europe with her best friend Melanie and the other members of the Teens Tour! travel group.  Allyson is tired, ready to go home and start the next phase of her life: college and then med school. She grudgingly admits to herself that this Trip of a Lifetime has, in reality, been a bust. Nothing has lived up to her expectations so far and she’s ready to call it a day. While waiting in line to attend The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet, Allyson meets a tall, lanky boy with amazing dark eyes passing out fliers for a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, staged by a company known as Guerrilla Shakespeare which is to be held later that evening. After telling her that “the night is too beautiful for tragedy,” Allyson talks Melanie into ditching Hamlet and attending Twelfth Night instead.

As the hot day softens into twilight and I’m sucked deep into the illusory world of Ilyria,  I feel I’ve entered some weird otherworldly space, where anything can happen, where identities  can be swapped like shoes. Where those thought dead are alive again.  Where everyone gets their happy-ever-afters.  I recognize it’s kind of corny, but the air is soft and warm, and the trees are lush and full, and the crickets are singing, and it seems like, for once, maybe it can happen. 

The experience sets in motion a chain of events Allyson could never have imagined. The next day, aboard a train bound for London, the last leg of her journey home, Allyson again meets the  striking actor from the night before. An instant connection is made between she and Willem, a twenty year old Dutch native who is getting ready to return home himself after two years of living on the road. When Allyson mentions that she is disappointed to have never visited Paris on this trip, Willem suggests she do it. Journey to Paris, with him, for just one day. And although she barely knows him, and although it’s is extremely out of character, Allyson takes a deep breath and agrees.

What follows is a day and night that Allyson will never forget. So a question for you: do you believe in love at first sight? I’m on the fence about that one. But what I DO believe in is feeling a spark, a chemistry, an instant connection with someone. I know because it has happened to me. And that is exactly what happens with Allyson and Willem. Allyson opens up to Willem, in ways she could never open to anyone else, not even her best friend. Isn’t it sometimes easier to confide in someone you don’t know very well, because they are less likely to judge? Allyson finds herself admitting to Willem that she doesn’t want to go to med school, that’s her parent’s dream, not hers. She admits to feeling let down by this trip, and feeling hesitant about starting college. She admits to not wanting to disappoint others, and that most of her decisions stem from this fear. They talk about travel. They talk a little about family. They talk about time and fate and karma. And they talk about love.

“Have you ever fallen in love?” 

“No,” I reply. “I’ve never been in love.”

(…) “That’s not what I asked,” Willem says. “I asked if you have ever fallen in love.”

The playfulness in his voice is like like an itch I just can’t scratch. I look at him, wondering if he always parses semantics like this.

Willem puts down his fork and knife. “This is falling in love.” With his finger he swipes a bit of the Nutella from inside his crepe and puts a dollop on the inside of my wrist. It is hot and oozy and starts to melt against my sticky skin, but before it has the chance to slither away, Willem licks his thumb and wipes the smear of Nutella off and pops it into his mouth. It all happens so fast, like a lizard zapping a fly.

This is being in love.” And here he takes my other wrist, the one with my watch on it, and moves the watchband around until he sees what he’s looking for. Once again, he licks his thumb. Only this time, he rubs it against my birthmark, hard, as if trying to scrub it off. 

“It’s something that never comes off, no matter how much you might want it to.”

“You’re comparing love to a stain?”

He leans so far back in his seat that the front legs of his chair scrape off the floor. He looks very satisfied, with the crepe or with himself, I’m not sure.

“Exactly.”

(…)”How many languages have you been stained in?” I ask. 

He licks his thumb again and reaches across the table for my wrist, where he missed the tiniest smudge of Nutella. This time he wipes it- me- clean. “None. It always comes off.”

Guys, this is one of the most beautiful “falling in love” books I have ever read. EVER. It is poignant. It is emotional. It is FULL OF AMAZING SWOON.

When he finally kisses my mouth, everything goes oddly quiet, like the moment of silence between lightening and thunder. One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi. Four Mississippi. Five Mississippi. 

 Bang. 

We kiss again.  The next kiss is the kind that breaks open the sky. It steals my breath and gives it back. It shows me that every other kiss I’ve had in my life has been wrong. 

So, you have read the above summary and you know that this is only the beginning of the story. After an amazing day and night together, Allyson wakes up alone. Willem is gone without a goodbye. The carefree Allyson, who had slipped into an alter ego that Willem named Lulu (after silent film star Louise Brooks who Allyson reminds him of,) is instantly thrown into a tailspin and all the former self doubt and questions rush back in. Allyson, lost and distraught, slinks back to America with her tail tucked between her legs.

I knew going into Just One Day that there would be moments of  joy and wonder (it’s Gayle Forman, after all) and moments of utter heartbreak (again, it’s Gayle Forman.) And there is. Allyson returns home, enters college and reverts back to her old life. Except stepping back into the role of dutiful daughter and friend isn’t as easy as she expected. Meeting Willem, becoming Lulu, even for just one day, has irrevocably changed her, and there is no going back.

At this point in the story the pace slows down as Allyson, in the grips of a deep depression, muddles through her days and nights at college. Yes, it is a little Bella Swan/New Moon-ish in feel. Except that Allyson isn’t depressed just because she lost a boy. Allyson lost so much more that day in Paris. She lost an identity. She lost the chance to become the person she inwardly longs to be. And that is what makes this book so compelling. Allyson’s struggle to find herself, to stand up to all the self doubt and fear that she feels inside, and to challenge herself to become the person she wants to be.

I have a full life. How can I be this empty? Because of one day? Because of one guy?

When Allyson reaches a turning point, and with the help of some new found friends (D’Angelo, you ROCK) she realizes that the only way she is ever going to be able to move on is to go back to Paris to try and discover some answers: What really happened to Willem?  Was what she experienced over the course of that day one sided, or did Willem feel it too? The remainder of the story is Allyson readying herself both physically and mentally for her return to Paris. And as Allyson finally begins to let people in, she rediscovers hope and trust.

I was absolutely fist pumping and cheering Allyson on as she made that return trip to Paris. You guys, I was so swept up in this story, I felt like I was living it through Allyson’s eyes. I don’t know how she does it but Gayle Forman allowed me, a married mom of two, to feel personally connectedto this story in so many ways. There is magic, not the kind found in paranormal or supernatural books, but REAL, LIFE MAGIC written into Just One Day.  Just One Day is a book that will lift you up, make you laugh and smile, and  break your heart in the next instance. It will take you on a journey, just as Allyson journey’s to find Willem and, ultimately, herself. It is powerful and it is authentic. It may be just an every day story, something ordinary that could happen to anyone, but it is made extraordinary by the talented story telling of Gayle Forman.  In my opinion, Just One Dayepitomizes all the best things about Young Adult and New Adult contemporary literature. I wish that I could have read a book like this when I was just starting out. But honestly,  I think that the themes and messages found in this book are lessons that anyone, young or old, will easily relate to.

Guys, trust me. This book is not to be missed. I read a touring ARC that I had to mail after one week. It was a busy week because I had copious amounts of notes, quotes and excerpts marked that I had to jot down before sending it on. Needless to say, I have already pre-ordered a copy for myself because this is a book I will definitely read again and again. Especially as we near Fall of 2013, when the story continues through Willem’s point of view, entitled Just One Year. I am already FULL of speculations as to what his story is will be:)

Believe me when I say that you are going to want to read this book. And then come back and let me know what you think so we can discuss it in all it’s blazing glory, okay? Please? Thanks:)

5/5 Stars- This one gets all my stars:)