Thursday, February 4, 2016

"Just One Day" by Gayle Forman

I was a fan of Gayle Forman's "If I Stay" and its sequel "Where She Went," so when I learned she has another duology, I was excited to jump in. Lighter than "If I Stay," "Just One Day" remains a charming YA romance and self-exploration story.

Allyson's parents give her a trip to Europe with her best friend as a high school graduation present. Always the good girl, she's not as interested in going out to bars or anything beyond the sanctioned activities of the tour group. Until she meets Willem on her train to London for the last leg of the trip. Allyson follows him to Paris, and is swept up in a single day of romance. Yet when Willem disappears, she questions her decision and returns home a different person.

So let me be upfront with my single, but very large criticism of this book. The premise is absurd. Do not abandon your best friend on a train to London so you can go spend 24 hours in Paris with a guy you just met. That is an abominably dumb decision, and Allyson really should have known better, despite her recently-unearthed desire to live a little more than she had been. But going into this book, you know that's what she does. So I was willing to suspend my disbelief and give this a chance, accepting it for the implausible love story it is.

And beyond the love story, it's really much more. The day in Paris is just the first part of the book. When Allyson returns home, she has to grapple with a difficult transition to college, figure out how to fit in in a new environment, and figure out who she is and who she wants to be. As she discovers more about herself, she is determined to go back to Europe and find Willem. The finding Willem part, again, not a great life choice, but I can get behind going back to Europe as a goal to work toward over summer break.

While Allyson is a problematic character, and possibly not a great role model in terms of romantic-decision-making for high school kids about to head off to college and/or Europe, I enjoyed her journey toward self-discovery and her commitment to her goals. She develops a strong work ethic and figures out how to navigate (non-romantic) relationships in a way that is admirable, and likely helpful to readers at a similar point in their lives. Moreover, it's a fun read if you can just accept the premise and move on.

Verdict: Affirmed, I enjoyed this book a lot as a fun piece of fluff, though I would certainly dismiss it as a manual for making smart life decisions. I'm happily moving on to the sequel to see what Willem was doing all this time.

"Just One Day" by Gayle Forman, published January 8, 2013 by Dutton Books for Young Readers. Audio narration by Kathleen McInerney, published January 3, 2013 by Listening Library.

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