Book Review: Just One Day by Gayle Forman

Just One Day by Gayle Forman cover

Just One Day
by Gayle Forman
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Series: Just One Day #1
Published: January 8th 2013
Rating: pack your bags

Just One Day is the story of Allyson who is traveling around Europe with a tour group as a graduation present from her parents.  On her last night, she meets a charming Sutch actor Willem, and they decide to spend the day going to Paris before Allyson has to catch her flight back from London.

Allyson is so prim and proper that it would be easy to dismiss her. She comes off as fragile at first. She is an introvert, desperate to please, and has a well-meaning but completely overcontrolling mother. Her best  friend calls her "adventure adverse." I found her incredibly relatable.  She isn't sassy or the life of the party.  She is earnest, says less than she is thinking, and lives a fairly intense inner life.  She doesn't like huge crowds or noise. She struggles with opening herself up to friendship. She eventually shows her mettle on her journey of identity.

The instalove angle of this book was astonishingly well handled. Things develop very quickly between  Allyson and Willem. Their whole relationship at a whirlwind pace.  But there is always that question between them.  Is this real?  Like? Love? Lust? And how do we know? I loved how ambiguous he was. I am going to say it. Willem is the focus of so much attention in this book but really? He is irrelevant.  He could have been a new friend, a particular spot that touched, a pamphlet that urged her to break out of the narrow world that she had been living in. What Allyson is looking for isn't a lost love or someone to make her whole again.  She is looking for that day where she was truly herself.  She is navigating the new waters of adulthood while trying to figure out what parts of her character are really her and what parts thrust upon her by others. 

Sometimes the best way to find out what you’re supposed to do is by doing the thing you’re not supposed to do.

The cast is quite large and mostly well developed (with the exception maybe of her father and her roommates.) Dee is worth a whole book of his own. Allyson learns to open herself up to others and discovers that in doing so she can take away some valuable lesson in being from all of them. It is understated but one of my favorite parts of the novel.

YA travel novels are hard. I am a sucker for them, but I am pretty consistently disappointed. So often they are cheesy, full of stereotypes, or simply display no research whatsoever. Gayle Foreman, however, has clearly done some traveling. The frustrations, exhaustion, the build-up, and disappointments of the journey are all on display. It also shows the consistent grace and kindness that travelers encounter every day. This book has some of my favorite descriptions of Paris. I am a huge fan of Foremen's writing style.  She has a beautiful turn of phrase.

If you are looking for a cute uncomplicated romance, this isn't the book for you.  This is a book about losing yourself, finding yourself, and learning to figure out the difference.

That ending tho...

From Goodreads:

Allyson Healey's life is exactly like her suitcase—packed, planned, ordered. Then on the last day of her three-week post-graduation European tour, she meets Willem. A free-spirited, roving actor, Willem is everything she’s not, and when he invites her to abandon her plans and come to Paris with him, Allyson says yes. This uncharacteristic decision leads to a day of risk and romance, liberation and intimacy: 24 hours that will transform Allyson’s life.

A book about love, heartbreak, travel, identity, and the “accidents” of fate, Just One Day shows us how sometimes in order to get found, you first have to get lost. . . and how often the people we are seeking are much closer than we know.