Rating: 5/5 stars.
Are you looking for a whimsical romance filled with love songs and fiery kisses? Are you searching for a story with constant adventure, brimming with beauty and overflowing with passion?
If so, stop. Just One Day is not one of those books. It is not shallow. It is not like Anna and the French Kiss. It is beautiful, but in a bittersweet, lyrical, and oftentimes melancholy way. This is a book for people who have ever felt lost, for those who know what it feels like to be unsure of who they are, or of who they want to be.
After her senior year of high school, good girl Allyson Healey embarks on a journey to Europe. Except it’s not really a journey at all, or even a trip – just a boring tour with her blond best friend Melanie. That is until she sees a magical performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and one of the actors flips her coin. By chance she encounters this actor – Willem – again on a train, but their relationship turns an entirely different direction when she decides to spend a day with him in Paris. There she becomes Lulu, an adventurous soul with no reservations, and she discovers a side of herself with Willem she comes to love in less than 24 hours. But the next day she wakes up and Willem is gone. Allyson spends the next year struggling to find herself, who she thought she was, and who she’s turning out to be.
If New Adult becomes a tangible genre in the realm of fiction, this is what it needs to be like. Just One Day is not a sexual love story. Depending on how you define the concept, it might not even be a love story at all. It encompasses all of the emotions associated with coming of age, going back and forth between growth, angst, hope, and sadness.
Reading Just One Day reminded me why I loved Gayle Forman’s first book, If I Stay. Like I’ve tried to repeat in this review, it’s not your typical love story where the protagonists meet, slowly fall in love, have a falling out, get back together, and live happily ever after. It’s far from that. Allyson thinks she comes close to finding herself after one day with Willem, but breaks apart once he’s gone. Her character screams of vulnerability, insecurity, and nuance, but has that spark of relatability and that whisper of strength that urges you to cheer her on. The other characters in the book: Allyson’s helicopter mom, her well-meaning yet lacking best friend, the shape-shifting black student she meets at college, etc. are all finely developed and feel strikingly real.
Forman’s writing blew me away too. She described France, Holland, and each and every one of Allyson’s experiences richly and completely. Her attention to subtle details within her characters’ dialogue and actions as well as her pacing of the story did more than satisfy me. While this isn’t a dark, dangerous action-adventure novel its progression through Allyson’s bildungsroman backed by its sheer emotional maturity makes it one of the best realistic fiction books I’ve read.
There are numerous themes that come together to form Just One Day. But my favorite has to be that of identity and discovering the truth about oneself. By the end of this book Allyson hasn’t just found herself after that one tragic day. She’s created herself, and I can’t wait to see where Forman takes her and Willem next.