Happy to see you all this lovely Tuesday. It's actually one of my BFFs birthday, so I'm going to give her a quick shout-out now. Happy birthday, Luce! Glad to have pulled bridesmaid duties with you this weekend. :)

For those of you who don't know, every few months, the awesome Tracey Neithercott hosts a YA Book Club. It's sort of a blog hop in that we all get a month to read the decided-upon book, and then everyone posts reviews and/or discusses the book on the set date and we all link up. You can find out more by clicking the button in the sidebar or the link above.

Anyway, I almost always miss it because I don't get to the book early enough, but this time, I was in luck. I had just finished Gayle Forman's JUST ONE DAY when it was picked for Book Club this month. So yay!

Without further ado, here's my review of the book. The short review: I loved it.

JUST ONE DAY by Gayle Forman

Emotional Grade: A
Intellectual Grade: 8/9 out of 10

Blurb (from goodreads): 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.

Review: Just One Day was the book I expected it to be and then some. Gayle Forman gives her main character Allyson (and by extension, her readers) a meet-cute on the train followed by a breathless, wanderlust-inducing day in Paris. Sounds like the perfect opener for a romantic comedy, right? Despite what the book blurb may suggest, Just One Day isn’t a romantic comedy and the romance aspect of it actually doesn’t even cover that much page time. Instead, this book is about Allyson’s existential crisis, her coming of age. It has a lot more substance than its kind of cutesy first impression would suggest.

I went into this book with relatively high expectations. I had read Gayle Forman's previous book If I Stay and liked it very much, and when the praise started pouring in for Just One Day, I wasn't surprised. So it was with great anticipation that I went into this story, and it not only held up under the hype, it also really lived up to it.

As book lovers, we all know the many reasons people fall in love with books and reading. The story or characters are very emotionally resonant and moving, or maybe they're not very deep but they're extremely entertaining or effective as a form of escapism. But the books that truly affect a reader are the ones that strike deeply at a truth, that connect on multiple levels, the ones that may not always be easy to read. I have a few books that do this for me, and while I don't think Just One Day is going to be my favorite book ever, I think it is one of the most personally resonant books I've read.

For anyone who has read a Gayle Forman book, you already know that she's a wonderful writer. I don't have to go into how her prose is always un-flowery yet at times lyrical, how she can paint a vivid picture with the most concise amount of words. I don't have to explain that her writing is both accessible and truthful, and I don't have to tell you that her character journeys are nuanced and real.

The thing that made this book for me was the main character Allyson's personal growth. Her eyes are opened to so many things in the course of the year that this book spans. There's the traveling and the whirlwind summer romance, yes, but there's also a lot of self-assessment, an awakening of her own desires and a realization that those things might be separate to what her parents and friends expect of her. It was this journey, this often difficult and uncomfortable journey that really struck a cord with me - not so much the swoony parts in Paris with Willem, though I did enjoy those parts. And I love how Willem helps Allyson see her potential but that Allyson is the one who ultimately helps herself. Willem is the catalyst but not the hero; Allyson is her own.

Lucky enough to go to Paris in 2005 & snap this pic.
Celebrated my birthday in this city of romance.
The thing with Allyson is that she is a sheltered girl who starts to rebel against being that sheltered girl, but that kind of rebellion is never as easy as it seems. The desire to change is the first step, but actually changing is hard, and Allyson's experience reflects that. She's actually a character who is not always like-able, and I won't lie, I was frustrated with her for big chunks of the book. But at the same time I knew exactly what she was feeling and why she was stuck in a rut because I've been there (and sometimes I think I'm still there). I was so surprised by how much I empathized with her and how I was rooting for her to break free even as I was trying to tamp down my annoyance with her.

I don't think I truly understood what people meant when they say that a book made them feel less alone, that it comforted and even saved them, until I read this book because there were so many moments in Just One Day that felt like dilemmas I've had, that expressed emotions I've never found the words for or that I've never been comfortable discussing with others. It really was like finding a friend, and it made me so impressed with Gayle Forman's ability to tap into the psyche of a new adult, to really tease out the insecurity, the complacency, and the desire but fear to become a different version of themselves.

The only negatives I have to say about Just One Day is that it can be a frustrating read, though I think that's intentional. The Shakespeare connection I thought was a little heavy-handed, especially in the beginning, like we were being told too explicitly to connect this bit of Shakespearean wisdom with this bit of Allyson's journey, but it smoothed itself out quickly enough and turned out to be a really beautiful thematic marker for the rest of Allyson's self-discovery. There's a plethora of secondary characters, and while I give Willem's mysteriousness a pass (since that's part of his charm and his role in the story), I felt like some of the secondary characters who are a bigger influence in Allyson's life could have been fleshed out more. There does end up being a big supporting cast, and I like that it adds to this idea of a web of connections, so I don't expect everyone to have a lot of depth, but I did feel like there was something a little shallow about what we got of Dee (though I liked the character a lot) and while Allyson's mom is the forceful parental unit in her life, what about her dad?

I also really didn't like the bordering on stereotypical portrayal of the nice-mean Californian roommate, which ultimately plays into the theme of things-not-being-as-they-seem, so I guess that portrayal was also intentional. But come on! It was pretty bad - nearly as bad as the now super cliche of the high school b*tchy blond cheerleader popular girl who is inexplicably mean towards the main girl character and is also dating the hot guy. (I could be biased on this last point though since I was born and bred in California, and I don't deny there are Californians like that and I get that we might come across a certain way. But I know lots of genuinely nice (not passive aggressive-nice) Californians and we're not all obsessed with our tans!)

These are really just nitpicks though. Overall, it's a wonderful book for character, and like I said, the romantic parts in the beginning are swoony and Paris and later Amsterdam is beautifully brought to life. It'll give you wanderlust for sure, which totally makes me more jealous of my college roommate who now lives in Paris and who has been Euro-hopping on weekends. *SIGH*

Just One Day is also a good argument for the whole "New Adult" genre. It fills that niche of after high school-into-early college, of leaving the comfort and familiarity of home and friends, of the trials and tribulations of having unprecedented independence and really becoming an adult.

I can't wait to read the follow-up Just One Year to see Willem's side of the story!

Be sure to check out what other people have to say about this book too by visiting Tracey's blog for the linky or click the YA Book Club banner at the top of this post!

Q4U: Have you read Just One Day? What did you think? If not, have you read a book that really spoke to your personal experience?


Katy Upperman said...

Love this write up, and I'm totally on-board with all of it. Allyson't journey was my biggest reason for loving this book too. I could totally see myself in her, so it was easy to empathize. I can’t wait to read Willem’s book this October. I’m very much looking forward to learning about him and his past, and seeing how it all impacts Allyson and her journey.

Oh, and I love your emotional/intellectual book grading system. Very smart. :-)

Stephanie Allen said...

I read the one day in Paris portion of the book in bits and pieces - it wasn't until the second portion where Allyson was trying to figure things out that I wasn't able to put it down, because that experience really resonated with me.

Tracey Neithercott said...

What a thoughtful review. I agree with a lot of it: Allyson's personal growth throughout the course of the novel was wonderful, and I connected to her so strongly. I understood exactly why she'd go off to Paris with a guy she'd just met, how she could fall in love in a day, and why she'd be bummed (though I personally disliked Willem). I loved the supporting characters (Dee was my favorite) and the growth she's made by the end of the book. I just wish she found a better guy to be in love with, one who wouldn't ogle other girls in front of her.

Jessica Love said...

You are so right about the Californian stereotype! My goodness, we are not like that! Ugh. I'm totally with you on that.

But I did love this book. I can't wait for the next one!

linda said...

Glad to hear this one resonated with you so much! I don't know if I can put up with the frustration, and I liked but didn't love IF I STAY and WHERE SHE WENT. But I'll keep my eyes out for this one! :)

Emy Shin said...

Admittedly, I haven't read any of her previous novels, but I'm curious about this one. Your review definitely makes me want to read it soon.