Just One Day by Gayle Forman

Cover via Goodreads.

Cover via Goodreads.

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.

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21 Comments

Filed under 5 stars, Book Reviews, Books

21 responses to “Just One Day by Gayle Forman

  1. Superb, superb review Thomas! The way you described the book makes me want to walk to the bookstore right now and grab the book off its shelf, despite the freezing temperature and fiery wind! This doesn’t seem like the typical superficial book, which I always immensely appreciate!

    -Grace :)

    • Thanks Grace! Funnily enough I just went to a bookstore in the freezing temperature and amidst the fiery wind a few hours ago – going out to get this book would definitely be worth it. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Jen Pace

    sounds good… but i also liked anna and the french kiss :)

    • That’s great! I’m not saying that if you liked Anna and the French Kiss you won’t like Just One Day. All I’m saying is that people shouldn’t expect Just One Day to mirror Anna, because it’s wildly different.

  3. Looks like I really need to get my hands on this book! I’ve heard nothing but good things. But I’m sort of waiting to get closer to the release of the second book because I’ve heard there is a bit of a cliffhanger. So glad you liked it, Thomas! Great review.

    • That’s a smart strategy to wait until the release of the second book comes closer, though it is a plan that requires patience I probably don’t possess. Thanks for reading and commenting Lulie!

  4. I do plan to read this book but I want to read Where She Went first. Although reading your review tempts me to buy it immediately! I had no idea this book is labeled New Adult. I am not a fan of New Adult but if Forman is writing it she just might change my mind :) Fantastic review! I can tell that you really love this book.

    • For some reason I didn’t love Where She Went as much as If I Stay or Just One Day, but I did enjoy it – I hope you do too. I don’t think this book is really “New Adult.” I’m still grasping what that label implies because I feel like it’s vague at this point. Yes, it concerns a character who has recently reached adulthood (as opposed to being in her teens), but it doesn’t have anything to do with gratuitous sex or any of the other things that have given New Adult its negative connotation. Anyway, when you do decide to read it, I hope you love it as much as I did!

  5. you convinced me! i’m going to hunt for this book this weekend.

  6. My sister loved this book but said it was very sad and that she had to read something very happy afterward!

  7. This book is getting a lot of love lately…though I’ve never enjoyed travel books much but I’ll try to find this at a library or something.

    If you like bittersweet stories then someone recommended Hopeless by Colleen Hoover to me and it actually sounded interesting. I read a little but I unfortunately know the ending too so I don’t have the heart to pick it up just yet but you might be interested… (:

    • I’m not a huge fan of travel books either, but Gayle Forman writes every scene so well and puts it all together seamlessly – even if you don’t like travel books much I’m sure that won’t stop you from enjoying Just One Day!

      Also, I’m picking up Slammed by Colleen Hoover from the library this weekend; once I read that one I’ll be sure to read Hopeless. Thanks for the recommendation!

  8. Great review! I’ll have to bump this up higher on my to read list!

  9. Pingback: Just One Day by Gayle Forman Audiobook Review « The Reading Date

  10. Brilliant review, just finished reading this book and I agree with everything you say!

  11. I’ve got this sitting on my to-read list… it might be sitting for awhile. I’m still in love with the ‘if I stay & where she went’ books. I loved her writing tho!

    • Forman’s lyrical writing quality remains persistent between those books and this one – whenever you have time to read it I highly recommend you do!

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