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Monday, January 7, 2013

'Just One Day' by Gayle Forman

From the BLURB:

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.

Allyson Healey should be having the time of her life. That’s what the brochure said, and no doubt what her parents intended when they gave her a European ‘teen tour’ package holiday as part of her graduation present. But this adventure is not all it’s cracked up to be, at least not for Allyson. The Trevi Fountain was crowded, there was a McDonald's at the base of the Spanish Steps and so far this whole experience has been more ‘European Vacation’ than ‘Roman Holiday’. And the worst came when the Paris leg of the trip had to be cancelled, because of a transport strike.

Allyson’s best friend, Melanie, is having a grand old time and taking full advantage of the teen tour guide’s lack of nighttime supervision. But if these are meant to be the best years of Allyson’s life, then she shudders to think what adulthood has in store for her. But this holiday will be her last little slice of freedom before she has to buckle down and start college, living out her mother’s dream that she be pre-med.

In the spirit of ‘making the most of a bad situation’, Allyson convinces Melanie to a break in schedule, missing out on a Royal Shakespeare Company play and instead walking to a riverbank where a promised ‘Guerilla Shakespeare’ play will be performed. And it’s here that Allyson first lays eyes on Willem De Ruiter – a handsome and talented Dutch actor in Twelfth Night, who tosses a coin at Allyson when he takes his bow.

The next day Allyson can’t stop thinking about the handsome actor, even as her mind is churning with preparations to return home . . .  until she bumps into Willem on the train. 

Their spark is undeniable, and when Willem offers her one day to make up for her lost Paris tour, she can’t resist. Against her better judgement and Melanie’s cautions, even though she’s not even close to being that type of girl . . . Allyson agrees to one day with Willem, in Paris.

What follows is a mad-cap expedition to the heart of the most romantic city in the world – all with Willem at her side. And while he introduces her to the city, he also gives her a glimpse behind his easy-going exterior. The two of them discuss their hopes and fears, the questionable consumption of chocolate and bread, how lust is like a smudge and love a birthmark . . . and all the while Willem calls her ‘Lulu’, for she reminds him of the famous silent film star Louise ‘Lulu’ Brooks. 

Allyson is giddy on the romantic impulsiveness that comes with being ‘Lulu’, and Willem, and what he brings out in her.

But after one perfect day Willem vanishes. . . leaving Allyson lost in the city of love, and with a bitter aftertaste of their short time together.

What follows is Allyson’s year of trying to forget the best and worst time in her young life. As she struggles with a difficult college course, her drifting friendship with Melanie and her mother’s smothering.

Half-way through the year, Allyson is convinced to swap a few of her heavier courses (that she’s failing) for a class on Shakespeare. It’s here that Allyson reopens Lulu’s old wounds, and tries hard to get over Willem . . . but she also meets the fabulous Dee, one man who’s not afraid to be himself no matter what others think.

Allyson had one perfect day with a guy who doesn’t even know her real name. Their short time together had consequences that Allyson is still trying to heal. . . 

‘Just One Day’ is the new novel from Gayle Forman. 

I was warned about this one before I started reading. Persnickety Snark kindly lent me her advance copy, and before I even cracked the book open she let me know that the sequel, ‘Just One Year’, would be out in September 2013. Now, knowing that Ms Forman is the queen of the teen heartbreak I knew this was a warning to brace myself – which I did, but even forewarning couldn’t properly guard my heart against this wonderful story.

‘Just One Day’ is undoubtedly of the ‘New Adult’ genre. Allyson has graduated high school and when we meet her, she’s on her first big adventure before she goes away to college – granted, it’s a rather sanitized and pre-packaged adventure, courtesy of her parents and a strict ‘teen tour’ schedule. But it’s not this adventure that makes ‘Just One Day’ new adult. Rather it’s the fact that Allyson deviates from the schedule, and goes against her normal behaviours, taking a chance on a handsome Dutch actor with a lazy smile and charming eyes who whisks her away to Paris. This is the moment when ‘Just One Day’ leaps from ‘young adult’ to ‘new adult’, when Allyson challenges herself and is eventually burned by the consequences. What follows is a year of her trying to get over the one perfect day that ended in heartache, all while coping with her mother’s expectations of who she is meant to be and losing the last vestiges of her childhood when her best friend, Melanie, cuts herself out of her life.

I feel like ‘Just One Day’ is sort of a perfect example of everything ‘new adult’ should be. There’s a lot of talk around this emerging readership that’s not quite ‘young adult’, but not ‘adult’ either – it’s that middling point, when young adult readers start growing up but still cling to the stories and authors that hooked them in the first place. ‘Just One Day’ explores this beautifully, when Forman includes the very trigger-moment that sends Allyson from childish things, to teetering on the very edge of adulthood – if only the defining moment of her transition wasn’t haunting and holding her back. 

Part of me knows one more day won’t do anything except postpone the heartbreak. But another part of me believes differently. We are born in one day. We die in one day. We can change in one day. And we can fall in love in one day. Anything can happen in just one day. 

I loved that Forman also explored this new adult concept in Allyson’s changing friendships. First, there’s her childhood friend Melanie with whom she shares summer rituals and a sisterly bond. But when Melanie begins college in New York, and is the only person to know what transpired during Allyson’s day in Paris (and the resulting year of moping) the two start to drift apart. Meanwhile, Allyson befriends flamboyant male student, Dee, who she meets in her Shakespeare class and who teaches her a thing or two about remaining true to yourself, and how old scars can shape us into better people. I loved Melanie and Allyson’s slow drifting apart – it’s something every person experiences as they get older and grow into themselves, and grow out of old friendships. There’s something very subtle and heartbreaking about this particular break-up between Melanie and Allyson. Meanwhile, I adore Dee. He was, hands down, my favourite character in ‘Just One Day’ – he’s one of the best secondary character I've ever read and I hope he makes a big appearance in ‘Just One Year’. 

The first-half of ‘Just One Day’ is full of that exhilarating romanticism that Forman so excels in writing, as fans will remember from Mia and Adam’s heartbreaking romance in ‘If I stay’. The Paris setting is pitch-perfect; an ode to the City of Love that’s made all the more exhilarating for the fact that we’re seeing it through Allyson’s eyes and her trip is mingled with thoughts of Willem and their whirlwind romance. Forman undoubtedly has some Parisian experience, because while she revels in the beauty of the city, she also writes of the dark underbelly found down narrow side-streets and segregated communities. And in this sense, Paris becomes another character in the story and also a perfect analogy for ‘Lulu’ and Willem’s romance – which was as light and beautiful as the city itself, but ultimately hides darker truths and imperfections.

Gayle Forman excels in writing character-driven stories, and ‘Just One Day’ is no exception. This story really hinges on readers being able to sympathise with Allyson, and understand how one day with Willem can so impact the next year of her life . . .  Forman does this beautifully by writing rich family conflicts for Allyson, whose mother is a well-meaning but suffocating force in her life. Once we understand Allyson’s background, we better sympathise with the heady excitement Willem offered with his Paris adventure. And Allyson really is so relatable – here’s a girl who is unsure of the life path she’s on, haunted by past heartbreak and desperate to overcome her own insecurities. She’s a wonderful heroine.

More of an enigma in this story is Willem. He’ll be a dividing character, for sure – readers will either love him or hate him. We only read Willem through Allyson’s eyes, and Forman leaves a lot of his deeper character building for second book ‘Just One Year’, when the story will be continued from his perspective . . . I really look forward to this, both for the many questions that will be answered but also so that Forman can change my opinion of him. 

‘Just One Day’ is a triumph, and already a favourite read of 2013. I loved this book, and I can’t wait for Gayle Forman to visit Melbourne for ‘Reading Matters’ in 2013 (I think there will be many audience questions about Willem and his ‘Just One Year’!). This novel is one of the best examples of the emerging new adult readership; a character-driven, Parisian heartbreak story with hopes of redemption in book two. 


Gayle Forman is coming to Australia for the Centre for Youth Literature's 'Reading Matters'!


  1. So glad you loved this story as much as I did. Between JOD and Anna & The French Kiss I will definitely need to be heading to Paris (sadly without Willem or St. Clair). Forman has a beautiful way of sharing her characters to the world, and to each other - v much looking forward to having her here in Melbourne all too soon.

  2. Oh...this looks like it has everything I love; I have the feeling I'm going to devour it!! As always, excellent review.

  3. This really does sound excellent, Danielle! I'm so glad that this explored the relationships that go along with growing up, past our teenage years - we definitely all go through that experience.

    Wonderful review!

  4. I am Just a little jealous that you have read this already. Or maybe if I was being honest I would confess that I am Just a lot jealous!

  5. WOW. Forman is definitely the queen of teen heartbreak, and I hope after reading your review I can guard my emotions a little more! Reading your review has made my heart shatter...not just because of Willem and Allyson, but also Allyson and Melanie. Friends drift apart after graduation...but it's still a very sad experience :( I really can't wait to read this now! Beautiful review, Danielle :)


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