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.
Oh man, I know what you’re thinking. A red traffic light for Just One Day, a book that SO many people have loved? Yup. I know many people liked this book, but to say I had some problems with it would be an understatement. So fair warning, this may get ranty.
This book was insta-love and first world problems for a party of one. That “one” being Allyson, our main character. Now, on paper, I was SO sure I was going to connect with Allyson. I was always the “good girl” growing up, the planner, the one who had her life figured out by the age of seventeen(or so I thought), the dependable girl who was sure to knock any challenge that came my way out of the park, all the while wanting an adventure of my own. However, that was not the case at all.
Allyson flings from being the “dependable girl” to traveling off to Paris with Willem. So, cool. Good for you for taking a chance, Allyson! Some things happen in Paris that made me roll my eyes or shake my head, but on the whole, I understood the impulse for adventure and for maybe a fling. That, I was on board with. But soon Allyson’s all but declaring her love to Willem, even though she seriously suspects him of hooking up with EVERY girl that pays attention to him. Welcome, insta-love, at least from Allyson’s side. Willem goes along with Allyson for the most part, though he’s sufficiently cagey every time Allyson asked him any questions that could ever pin him down–his email address, phone number, last name, etc.
To be honest, I was sufficiently worried by the relationship between Allyson and Willem. It’s one thing to have a mutual fling, but I found it uncomfortable and unsettling how Allyson spent so much of the day they spent together in Paris wondering if Willem was going to take off and leave her to be with other girls. Then, towards the end of the book as Allyson thinks this:
I’m the one who told Willem I was in love with him. I’m the one who said that I’d take care of him. I’m the one who bailed.
What? Allyson, NOOO. You spent a day with him. A year later, you should not be beating yourself up over “leaving”, considering you woke up in the morning to find Willem and everything gone. That is NOT healthy. And I could deal with this is the relationship was presented in that light, but I didn’t feel like it was. While so many people around Allyson basically keep telling her Willem wasn’t worth continuing to think about, she can’t help it. And I get it, I really do, but somewhere along the way Allyson’s quest to re-invent herself became tangled up in her relationship with Willem, and it never really separates. During the middle of the book, I was on board with that, but I felt it never really changed. Yes, by the end Allyson may have confronted some truths from that day in Paris and learned a bit about herself and want she wanted to be, but she never really untangled that from her supposed “love” with Willem.
In short, I have to admit that Allyson and Willem’s relationship creeped me out, especially the way it was continually romanticized throughout the book. It wasn’t that Allyson’s relationship with Willem was all bad–if Just One Day had showed us the effect of that day on Allyson and her journey to find herself in her new college setting, I would have been totally on board. It was more the length of obsession that Allyson went to, considering Willem’s character in the first place, that gave me pause.
Speaking of Allyson’s character arc, I have to admit this was one of my favorite passages from the book:
Willem changed my life. He showed me how to get lost, and then I showed myself how to get found.
It’s a wonderful line, and it reminds me how much I love Gayle Forman’s writing, which was really the only reason I kept reading this book. However, let’s dig into this quote a little deeper, shall we? Willem certainly showed Allyson how to get lost. But I’m not convinced the second part is so true. See, while I tried hard to sympathize with Allyson as much as possible, I just could not help but to shake my head at some of her “problems”. Allyson faces a lot of family pressure to be the best in school, become the world’s brightest doctor, and save millions of lives. Now that itself was one of the problem Allyson faces that I found really interesting. However, the way Allyson deals with her problems–if at all–drove me crazy. I think one of problems I had with Just One Day is the same problem I had with Anna and the French Kiss: Privileged wealthy kids complaining over problems that could be so small if you know, they actually. . . TALKED.
As we see Allyson’s first year of college, it becomes clear that she’s unhappy following the family plan. She eventually starts doing things that make HER happy instead of make her family happy, and I was definitely cheering for her at this point. It drove me crazy how almost ALL of her problems came back to Willem, but at this point, I was getting used to that. Still, every once in a while Allyson would remind me just how annoying she could be at times. One of the main things that annoyed me was that at one point, Allyson decides she needs to save up money for something her parents won’t approve the funds for. So she has to get . . . a JOB. Problem is, Allyson’s never had to get a job before, and of course, she complains about it. Luckily, she does eventually find a job and doesn’t complain about that, and it was definitely a good growing experience for her. But just small thing after small thing seemed to be such big CHALLENGES for Allyson.
So, what did I like about Just One Day? As mentioned before, Gayle Forman’s writing is always beautiful. I did really enjoy the college setting, and actually getting to see one of Allyson’s classes. I liked the idea of Allyson’s journey, but it was so tied up in her relationship with Willem that it never quite seemed to work out in the right way. These small things are what kept me reading, but on the whole, I’m sad to say I didn’t enjoy the book.
Final Impression: So many people love this one, but I found it problematic on multiple levels. I thought the relationship between Willem and Allyson was unhealthy, so it was hard for me to root for Allyson since her continual fascination with finding Willem was so tied up in her personal journey. There were a few things I liked, but not enough to save this book into “I liked” territory. 2/5 cupcakes.