I never know what jumble of emotions will flood over me as I crack the spine on a new Gayle Forman novel—but I always welcome the deluge. If one can be both giddy and melancholy in the same moment, well, that was my state as I turned the final page of the author's latest effort.
Part romance, part travelogue, part coming-of-age tale, "Just One Day" centers around straight-laced American teen Allyson Healey, who's spent the final weeks of her summer before college traveling with a study group in Europe. On the last night of the tour, Allyson meets Willem, a dreamy Dutchman who's part of an underground Shakespeare company. Allyson feels an instant connection, and a chance encounter the following day precipitates an invitation to spend the day with Willem in Paris.
And what a whirlwind 24 hours it is, as Willem and Lulu (the name Willem bestows upon Allyson thanks to her likeness to Louise Brooks) trip through the city, eating, drinking and sharing parts of themselves—all the while leaving many things unsaid. Because it's just one day, right? But as her European alter ego Lulu, Allyson sheds her usual inhibitions, embracing an adventurous, spontaneous side she never knew she had. So it's devastating when Allyson wakes up the next morning and finds Willem gone.
In some ways, this is where the real story starts. As Allyson leaves home for college, she can't shake the depression this lost, could-be-love has left behind. On campus, she makes few friends and her usually stellar grades tank. She soon realizes that she's not just mourning the loss of Willem but the loss of who she was when she was with Willem. It's decided: She'll not only find Willem in Paris, but the self she left behind, as well. And that, dear readers, is where I will leave you to pick up a copy of "Just One Day" for yourself.
What Gayle does so brilliantly, both here and in her earlier "If I Stay," is make her characters' personal struggle universal. Allyson's search for identity is wholly hers, but it's ours as well. If you've ever had an unrequited love. If you've ever wondered who you really are. If you've ever had questions that seemed to have no answers, then this is your story. Which is what makes "Just One Day" so powerful.
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