Book Review: Just One Day by Gayle Forman

Just One Day by Gayle Forman cover

Just One Day
by Gayle Forman
Goodreads | Amazon | Audible
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.

Book Review: Where She Went by Gayle Forman

Where she went cover

Where She Went
by Gayle Forman
Goodreads | Amazon
Series: If I Stay #2
Release date: April 5th, 2011
Rating: I heart it

“I’m not sure that this a world I belong in anymore. I am not sure that I want to wake up.”

Where She Went follows Adam, who was Mia’s boyfriend in If I Stay, as he tries to come to terms with who he is and what his life has become in the three years since the events of f I Stay. How is it possible that this book is more intense than If I Stay? It isn’t as moving and I didn’t cry at all but there was this incredible gripping tension about the book. 

Adam (and Mia’s) anger and resentment felt very real.  What happened in the first book was a huge deal and it anger is a logical response.  I think that when we have generalized anger at the world (especially when we are young) we tend to take it out on the people that we love the most.  And that we know love us the most.  If you are mean to a friend or acquaintance you can’t be sure that they will feel the need to deal with you and your baggage anymore.  Generally, your family does.  Because Mia no longer has family Adam becomes the person in her life that she can take things out on.  For his part Adam takes his anger out on music because of her loses Mia, music is his strongest relationship.

“We were both music obsessed, each in our own way.  If we didn’t entirely understand the other person’s obsession, it didn’t matter, because we understood our own.”

As with If I Stay, music incredibly important to Where She Went .  Adam’s band has made it big after he and Mia broke up.  Mostly due to the album he wrote in the throes of a post breakup pity party.  I found it interesting that throughout the novel Adam’s relationship with music was as important and driving as any of his relationships with other characters.  Adam and music are having a rough time (as happens with relationships) and I found that I was really invested in seeing him love music again.

Forman really explore the idea of success.  How do we define it for ourselves and what happens when we are not satisfied with what we thought would make us happy? My main takeaway:  Being famous is creepy and will probably ruin your life.  I have this theory that there is only so much fame that a human being can take before they lose their minds.  For example: pretty much anyone who has even been significantly famous before the age of eighteen.  With the possible exception of anyone playing a Harry Potter character.  Because magic.

I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it.

From Goodreads:
It's been three years since the devastating accident . . . three years since Mia walked out of Adam's life forever.

Now living on opposite coasts, Mia is Juilliard's rising star and Adam is LA tabloid fodder, thanks to his new rock star status and celebrity girlfriend. When Adam gets stuck in New York by himself, chance brings the couple together again, for one last night. As they explore the city that has become Mia's home, Adam and Mia revisit the past and open their hearts to the future - and each other.

Told from Adam's point of view in the spare, lyrical prose that defined If I Stay, Where She Went explores the devastation of grief, the promise of new hope, and the flame of rekindled romance.

Book Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I stay cover

If I Stay
By Gayle Forman
Goodreads Amazon
Series: If I Stay #1
Release date:
Rating: Sob fest

Warning: Do NOT read If I Stay in public. The blurb gives away major portions of the plot (why do they do that?) but it boils down to seventeen-year old Mia having been in a serious car accident with her family.  The book follows her as she decides if she should stay. Basically you are going to cry. 

I have read the book before.  I knew what was going to happen and yet I still cried.  I started crying on page 16 and sort of intermittently wept until the last page. At one point I was ugly sobbing which confused and concerned my husband and made it very difficult to read.   And then I was very very tired.

First person present tense books are a deal breaker for some people.  They aren’t my favorite either.  In this case however the choice is perfect.  It serves to highlight the uncertainty of Mia’s present situation.  Everything is happening at this moment and we don’t know if there will be another one.

Gayle Forman is a master and making characters believable and true.  Mia’s parents were a great example of this.  They seemed as if they were real people with lives before and beyond their daughter.  You can see this with her father’s transition from punk rocker to proto-“conservative” and her mother’s feminism and strength.  I find it interesting that her parents are “cooler” than her. 

Mia is a wonderful character.  Gayle Forman managed to write a seventeen-year old who thinks like a seventeen-year old.  Mia is mature but she isn’t an adult in miniature.  She has quirks and insecurities.  She is sometimes awkward and sometimes resentful of the people around her as we all were/are.  Sometimes, in writing likeable characters’ authors forget to write them young.  That was skillfully avoided here. In contrast Forman also manages to make the romantic relationship between Mia and Adam seem mature and as is mentioned in the book “not like a high school romance”.

The flashbacks were skillfully used and touching.  They were incredibly human moments such as the impromptu picnic in the backyard, her mother making pancakes for breakfast, Teddy insisting on wearing “the Mufflers” to one of Adam’s concerts.  Sometimes they were funny which just made Mia’s loss all the more painful for us as readers. 

If I stay is an excellent example of how music itself and playing music specifically can be used to further a story.  Mia’s relationship with her cello is documented from the first time she picks it up.  We can see the ups and downs. She loves it, realizes how much time she is putting into it, get lonely with with, learns the joy of playing with others, makes the choice to try and make it a career.  It is as fully formed a love story as any between two people.

If I Stay is a new YA classic for good reason.  If you haven’t read it, you should. Immediately reading the sequel Where She Went.

From Goodreads:
The critically acclaimed, bestselling novel from Gayle Forman, author of Where She Went, Just One Day, and Just One Year. 
Soon to be a major motion picture, starring Chloe Moretz!

In the blink of an eye everything changes. Seventeen year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall what happened afterwards, watching her own damaged body being taken from the wreck. Little by little she struggles to put together the pieces- to figure out what she has lost, what she has left, and the very difficult choice she must make. Heartwrenchingly beautiful, this will change the way you look at life, love, and family. Now a major motion picture starring Chloe Grace Moretz, Mia's story will stay with you for a long, long time.