Just One Day by Gayle Forman
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. (Goodreads)
While on a European tour–a high school graduation present–Allyson and her best friend decide to skip out on the group and see an underground performance of Twelfth Night. There she spots Willem, one of the actors, and feels an instant chemistry. She can’t seem to erase him from her thoughts. When she runs into him on the train the next day it seems like fate. When Willem offers to show her Paris–not the touristy Eiffel Tower and Louvre Paris, but the real city–Allyson goes for it (something completely against her anal retentive, follow the plan nature). They spend an incredible day and night together and until Allyson wakes the next morning to find that Willem is gone. She goes home heartbroken, feeling like a stupid girl who took it all too seriously, and prepares to embrace her new life in college.
The thing is, Willem got under her skin and no matter what she does, she can’t seem to shake him. She sort of huddles in a corner, resistant to making close friends, failing her classes, basically falling apart, unwilling to see life beyond this one day in Paris. When she finally makes a friend, he’s a breath of fresh air, but even then it’s like Willem is part of her very being. The depression she experiences, and issues she has (controlling parents, a best friend drifting away at another college) really seem to break her down to a shell of a girl. Until she decides to take charge, search for Willem, and hold out hope that he had a reason for doing what he did. Then she awakens and brightens, deciding to save her money and go back to find him.
I struggled with this book and it is in no way because it isn’t a wonderful, lovely story. It is all those things. But I adore Gayle Forman’s previous novels, If I Stay and Where She Went. Adam from those books is one of my favorite book boyfriends EVER. So it’s not fair of me to compare…but I can’t help it. I waited so long to read this book (saw it sitting on my shelf for months, even signed by Forman herself, but I held out in anticipation of the sequel). Consider the crazy love I have for her other books, the weird way I reread them quite often, my strange crush on Adam, and now all these months of waiting to read JOD, and you’ll perhaps understand that my hopes were super-high. Again, it’s not really fair. These are two entirely different stories.
But, trust me when I say, had I read JOD first, before any other Forman book, I would have liked it. I would have found it to be a compelling story–one less about love and more about self-discovery, but good just the same. But I still would not have loved it. Why? Because I never fell in love with Willem. For me, that’s an integral part of a love story. I have to feel it the way she does. Oh, and he’s a nice guy. He’s cute, they have some sweet moments, they have some oh-my-gosh-does-he-or-doen’t-he instances, and they’re in Paris for goodness sake. Paris! But I kept waiting and waiting for the swoons that never quite got there for me. I see why Allyson liked him. I see why she was bummed out. But I don’t see why she was unable to forget him. And that was part of the problem for me.
Also, Allyson’s first year of school felt long to me. I get that she was depressed and I believe it wasn’t just about Willem but about spreading her wings and figuring out who she wants to be in life. It was about coming out from under that over-protective, well-intended control exerted by her parents (her mom is a stay at home mom whose whole life has been Allyson. Wow, can I relate to this lady. I never want to become her). It was also about the very real strains and changes friendships go through as we get older. I related to so much of this, but it took soooo long for Allyson to snap out of it. And still so much of it kept going back to Willem, a guy she knew for a day. At times, I found it frustrating. When she finally gets some life in her, when she gets some gust, it’s really only because she’s made a decision to go back and stalk Willem. However romantic it may sound (and I liked that she did this), it came across as sort of well, sad to me. Maybe if they’d had some sort of contact (but no real answers) I could have bought into it. But honestly, her ideal dream to fly back and find Willem and get the information she so craves, felt so desperate. The only hope I held out was that she’d find him, discover it was all a huge misunderstanding and oh, what do you know, I’ve been pining for you this whole time too, let’s have a croissant and kiss on the Eiffel Tower (joking!). Her journey was ultimately good and the ending was interesting since it was a totally cliff hanger non-ending, but I felt it took too long, with too much emo girl, to get there.
Whew. I feel better now that that is off my chest. I know it’s unfair to hold such lofty expectations. It’s only a book –a solid one at that. I would recommend this to others. In fact, most of my friends loved this story. And I’m happy they did. It makes me think that perhaps I can read it again and find more beauty the second time around. For now, it fell a little short.
Crush Intensity: 4/5 See? That’s not bad. It just wasn’t what I’d hoped for.
Source: Bought a hard copy