Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Just One Day by Gayle Forman

In Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Allyson learns how taking a risk and doing something a little bit crazy can completely transform her life, for better and for worse.

Allyson has always been "the good girl" -- a good student, responsible, not prone to going wild or taking chances. She's just finished high school, and her parents have sent her on a tour of Europe before heading off to college in the fall. At the end of the tour, Allyson and her best friend break away from the group in Stratford-upon-Avon to see an experimental, outdoor production of Twelfth Night. Ally feels an instant connection with Willem, one of the actors, but expects that she will never see him again. When she meets him again the next day on the train to London, they discuss her recent travels, including the fact that the tour group didn't get to see Paris because of a baggage handlers' strike. Allyson has one more day in London before going back to the USA, which she is supposed to spend with friends of friends. When Willem offers to take her to Paris instead, Allyson decides to step out of her comfort zone and take a chance -- to be "Lulu," the persona she associates with the quirky nickname Willem gives her. And, despite some moments of worry and doubt, it is a magical day. But then, after spending the night with Willem in an artists' squat, Allyson wakes up alone. Willem is gone, without explanation, and Allyson is alone in an unfamiliar part of an unfamiliar city, where she does not speak the language, without money (she spent the last of it the previous day) or a working cell phone. She feels like she's been played. She manages to get in touch with the guide from her tour company, who negotiates transportation back to her friends in London, but it's a harsh return to reality for Allyson. Over the following year, Allyson struggles with questions and doubts. She's back to being the repressed, almost robotic "good girl," doing what her parents expect, but it's making her miserable. Is there any of "Lulu" left, or did Allyson leave her behind after that one day in Paris? And what happened to Willem? Will Allyson ever get the chance to return to Paris and find out?

I thought this book was all right, but not fantastic. I didn't get a real sense of Willem's character (though I'm sure the sequel will clear that up, as it's the story from his point of view, basically), so I couldn't really appreciate Allyson's fixation on him. Also, I thought their day in Paris was pretty lame, honestly. I mean, I can understand not wanting to do touristy things after being on a long guided tour, but if I ever go to Paris, I want to see more than a nightclub, a cafe, an artists' squat, and a random park. I liked the Shakespearean bits, of course, but any book with scenes set in a college class has to be careful it doesn't come across as overly didactic. This book teeters on the edge of that line, for sure. I also got a little impatient with Allyson's angst. But not to be too critical, I did enjoy the book as a whole, and I liked the ambiguity of the ending (though I note that many reviewers did not). I will probably read the sequel when it comes out.
(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

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