Just One Day

368p. Dutton. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-525-42591-5.
RedReviewStarGr 9 Up—"We are born in one day. We die in one day. We can change in one day. And we can fall in love in one day. Anything can happen in just one day." Allyson's life has been carefully planned out by her well-intentioned, but overbearing parents, even her graduation present of an educational tour of Europe. Everything that makes Allyson "Allyson"-from choosing her hobby of vintage-clock collecting to selecting what her college major will be-has been orchestrated by her mother. So when, after a chance encounter with a young man named Willem, the 18-year-old rebels and ditches a performance of the Royal Shakespeare Company to see "Guerilla Will," live Shakespeare performed in a London park, even her friend Melanie is surprised. Shedding her good-girl cloak and adopting the nickname "Lulu," Allyson decides to spend a day in Paris with Willem, an actor from the theater troupe. She surprises herself with her bold and adventuresome behavior during their time together, not the least of which includes having sex in an artist's squat. When Allyson wakes up the next day to find Willem gone, she returns home but can't shake him or the whole day from her memory. After a tumultuous freshman year, she saves up enough money to return to Europe and track down Willem to get closure. In the process of finding him, Allyson discovers herself, which may have been the point of the trip all along. Reading like a teen version of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love (Viking, 2006), this tale of romance and mystery engages readers and will cause them to examine their definitions of love and self-identity.—Nicole Knott, Watertown High School, CT
An engrossing and thoroughly charming story of serendipity, heartbreak, and self-discovery. Allyson, a recent high school graduate on a summer tour of Europe, is an endearing narrator with a palpable sense of angst about her perceived shortcomings and a knack for candid emotional expression. For example, following a brilliant performance of Twelfth Night by a group of “guerrilla” Shakespeare actors, Allyson describes a feeling of familiar bittersweetness: “I clap because I know what will happen when I stop. It’s the same thing that happens when I turn off a really good movie . . . which is that I’ll be thrown back to my own reality and something hollow will settle in my chest.” In a winning scene of kismet, Allyson and one of the actors, Willem, meet again on a train and decide to travel to Paris together. The day that they spend exploring the city is not simply a romantic fantasy brought to life but, ultimately, a fiercely honest and life-changing encounter in which both end up making difficult choices. Like Allyson, readers will be crushed when Willem disappears without explanation, but this development sets up the novel’s even more engaging second half. As a college freshman, Allyson must deal with her confusion and grief over Willem, the challenges of the undergraduate experience (e.g. feeling left out of her roommates’ budding friendship), and the lingering question regarding what she really wants from life. Gayle Forman’s depiction of college life is convincing and will be fascinating to many teen readers. The novel’s final act is spellbinding and is a note-perfect bridge to Just One Day’s upcoming companion book from Willem’s point of view.

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