Saturday, January 12, 2013

Review: Just One Day by Gayle Forman

Title: Just One Day (Just One Day, #1) 

Author: Gayle Forman 

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Nearly a decade ago, someone once told me that books are like memories; within their pages, they store your emotions and thoughts, a document of sorts of your experience. I still don’t know how true that statement is, but I dearly hope it is – at least when it comes to Just One Day. Nothing better than this book itself can summon up the whirlwind of emotion I felt when I read it. Although I cracked open its spine with trepidation – there are, after all, a plethora of mixed reviews out there – my feelings quickly changed from that of anxiety to excitement as I was swept up alongside Allyson on her breathtaking journey. At one point, I wasn’t sure if I was laughing or crying for I was so full of giddy happiness and bittersweet longing - those are the types of feelings a Gayle Forman novel inspires in you. I finished Just One Day with a smile on my face, my heart swelling with pride for Allyson, who felt as close to me as my own best friend, and although the pang I feel when I think of this novel is only an echo of what I feel for Forman’s If I Stay and Where She Went duo, I still love it, albeit in an entirely different way.

Just One Day is a novel that will very easily either captivate or disappoint readers. It’s a New Adult novel that almost demands that you be a teenager to truly understand it, for Allyson’s journey is such a personal and nostalgic experience, one that everyone can definitely relate to. One of the best ways I can find to summarize it is a realistic rendition of Kristen Hubbard’s Wanderlove. Although Wanderlove is one of my favorite books of all time, I can’t deny that the chances of traveling to a new country and finding a hitchhiker to explore with are rather low. Thus, Allyson’s summer experience in Europe, a disappointing one full of touristy stops and not enough life is easier to relate to. When Willem, an enigmatic Dutch actor who Allyson sees performing Shakespeare in London, offers to take her around Paris – for just one day – she agrees, despite her goody-two-shoes attitude.

What follows is a day of whirlwind journey; it isn’t perfect, but it’s real and it’s far more rewarding than any other trip on Allyson’s summer vacation. Perhaps best of all, to Allyson at least, is that she is no longer Allyson, the girl who listens to her parents, studies hard, and never lives life the way so many other teens do; now, she’s “Lulu”, a nickname Willem gives her, and as “Lulu,” Allyson is finally free to let loose the person she truly is inside. Nevertheless, her exhilarating journey is abruptly halted when, the next morning, Willem is gone. Now, Allyson is distraught, both at thinking that Willem may have just used her and at contemplating her life in college as a pre-med student – a path that her mother, not her, wants to follow. As Allyson will learn, however, her day in Paris wasn’t about Willem at all – it was about her and finding out that she was more than she – or anyone else – ever quite imagined.

Just One Day, as I’m sure countless reviews have stated, is a journey of self-discovery. Although I will admit that it isn’t wholly original, it is certainly memorable. Allyson has a certain vulnerability about her that makes her impossible not to love. In Paris, she may have been pretending to be “Lulu”, but that was who she really was and she struggles to find a way to be that person again, all while continuing to please her parents and hold onto her childhood best friend, Melanie, who constantly reinvents herself. One of my favorite aspects of this tale was the subtle heartbreak that came not only with seeing Allyson and Melanie grow apart, but also Allyson and her parents. In their place, however, Allyson makes new friends, never replacing those from her past, but simply realizing that growing up also means leaving room for new people to join her life, such as Dee, the African American boy she meets in her “Shakespeare Out Loud” class; the person who shows her that although she has many personas – “Lulu”, pre-med student Allyson, reliable Allyson – who she really is is a mixture of all the roles she plays, and still so much more.

In my eyes, what makes Just One Day such a hit-or-miss novel is the mere fact that Allyson is a character trying to find her place in the world. After her trip to Paris, she comes to the stark realization that no one really sees her – not her parents, not her best friends, no one – except for Willem. Willem, who took a bargain in spending a day with her, unknowingly changed her entire life, not just because of who he was, but in what he brought out inside her. What I loved about this story was that Allyson found herself again - finds herself again – and this time, without Willem. It is this journey, this third journey almost; the first being her wake-up call, the second being her slow emergence from the typical life she leads that isn’t really hers, to this now final journey of finding who she is all through her own experience, her own friends, her own interests, and her own initiatives. It’s beautiful.

Nevertheless, I will admit that Just One Day is not a perfect story. For one, some secondary characters, such as Allyson’s father, are astonishingly underdeveloped, lacking personality when surrounded by such well-fleshed out characters. Furthermore, this novel failed to impact me on an emotional level equal to that of If I Stay or Where She Went. I can’t really pinpoint what it is that made this novel fall for me, but a certain aura or fully nuanced aspect of Allyson, perhaps, was missing. Unlike other readers, however, I was never bothered by the mysterious figure that Willem remained throughout the novel. If anything, I loved the way he was portrayed in this book – a traveler, a lonely young man, a player…or someone who we’ve all just judged too quickly, because, perhaps, there’s more to him and his story than what we see before our eyes. Yet, what I liked best was that he didn’t reappear in this story – once he left, he was gone and then it was all Allyson and the manner in which she came to terms with who he was and what he did for her, changing her life, was remarkable.

Just One Day is a novel that just must be read. It is beautifully written and to see Forman take on something different – the idea of living truly and happily instead of the idea of choosing between life and death – was refreshing. Of course, there are many authors who have written self-discovery novels in the past, and I have liked some of them more than this one, but Forman’s tales just never leave my head. I was thinking about this the whole day, ever since I finished it last night (at 11:54, which means I actually read Just One Day in exactly a day!), and I am still convinced that I have not extracted the full depth and meaning that this story has to offer. It’s a universal tale, one that will transport you to other countries, make you feel emotions you thought you could never feel, and ultimately, just as it changed Allyson, it will change a small particle of you too. 


  1. Ooh, I can't wait for this! I adore Gayle Forman's writing. I'm very intrigued by the fact the Willem is there for a day and then just gone. It's hard to say now whether I can appreciate that in the book or if I'd want him to come back. But I guess we'll find out. ;) Fantastic review, Keertana! :)

  2. I haven't read any of Gayle Forman's novels yet (I know, I feel like I'm the only one in the world who hasn't) but I'm intrigued by this particular book's concept. It sounds like something that I would enjoy. Great review! :)

    Lyra @ Defiantly Deviant

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  5. There have been so many mixed reviews of this one, Keertana, that I'm so glad you managed to enjoy this one so thoroughly! Honestly, I love self-discovery books, and I think I will fall in love with this book. It's interesting that you didn't have as strong of an emotional connection with this one as you did with If I Stay or Where She Went- I was actually surprised by the lack of emotional connection that I didn't feel in If I Stay. I mean, of course, there was emotion, but not as much as what I think other readers felt.

    Nonetheless, this one sounds like such a realistic story about finding yourself- which is actually something that I struggle with myself. After a big move, I've been kind of struggling of showing off my real personality and figuring who I really am. Of course, I think every teenager goes through this, but I enjoy thinking that I'm kind of special. ;) However, I think I'd be able to relate to Allyson really well, not only because of the self-discovery, but because I've always been that good kid, who doesn't live as much as other teenagers (not that I'm not happy with that, I'd much rather read a good book than go out and get drunk, or something).

    Fabulous review as always, Keertana! I'm glad you enjoyed this one, despite the reviews and all the hype. <3

  6. Keertana, thanks for sharing what you've enjoyed from reading the book! I like stories that help us feel into the depth of enjoying what life is truly about and I think I can resonate with Allyson's journey. Brilliant review!

  7. I love Gayle Forman's writing! And it seems like Just One Day won't disappoint. Allyson seems like SUCH a real character that almost everyone can relate to in some way. I think that self-discovery stories bring out the most in someone, may it be because it's thought-provoking, or just simply relate-able. I'm glad to hear that you loved watching her find herself and watch her grow alongside other characters. I can't wait to pick this one up, because I think I'll love it! Thank you for the beautiful, breath-taking review, Keertana!

  8. Great review, Keertana! I'm looking forward to reading Just One Day.

  9. Yessss.....To all of it! Amazing, heartfelt review, Keertana! and you captured the story and it's many layers beautifully! I love this:

    "I wasn’t sure if I was laughing or crying for I was so full of giddy happiness and bittersweet longing - those are the types of feelings a Gayle Forman novel inspires in you."

    SO TRUE. Gosh I just love this book! I enjoyed talking it over with you after you finished reading and GAH! Willem, I NEED your story NOW!:)

  10. Such a beautiful review, Keertana! I'm glad that even though this was a hit for you, you're able to pinpoint some of the reasons other readers have had disappointed reactions. I'll admit I'll probably wait for the excitement of this one to die down before I pick it up (heck, I still haven't worked up the nerve to read Where She Went after the emotional train wreck that If I Stay left me in). I LIKE the idea that someone you spend just one day with can completely change your life and help you define who you are. I truly think there are little moments in our lives like that which can influence the rest of our lives, so hopefully I'll end up loving this one. We shall see!

  11. I really loved this book! I pointed out that I loved that the side characters were well fleshed out but you're right, her father wasn't for some reason. I loved her journey as well. This is one I know I will reread and I rarely reread!

  12. Oh Keertana, I'm so pleased that this book affected you on such a personal level! To be honest, I've red a few mixed reviews of this book and Gayle Forman is just one of those authors who don't write books I completely fall in love with, but you've definitely made me reconsider reading this with your incredible review! :)

  13. What a beautiful review, Keertana! You've expressed everything I feel about this book perfectly. :-)

    My emotions were also all over the place while reading! I felt very protective of Allyson, and I was SO proud of how much she had grown by the end of the novel. She summoned such bravery and backbone to travel alone and face Willem. I just hope he proves he's still worthy of her in Just One Year!

    "I am still convinced that I have not extracted the full depth and meaning that this story has to offer."

    ^ yes, THIS!! I will definitely be thinking about this book for a long time to come, and like you, I'm sure the story isn't done revealing things to me. :-)

  14. I've heard so much about Gayle Forman and I feel guilty for not yet having read one of her books. So I know I need to do this shortly.

    I'm glad to hear you enjoyed this because despite hit and miss reviews I knew you were looking forward to it and it's made me want to try Forman even more.

    It sounds like a really good novel and I don't think anything is perfect.

    Fantastic review as always! :)

  15. I'm not familiar with this book at all because I read very little contemp lit preferring paranormal reads and complete escapism where possible, but I must admit, your review now has me intrigued. Brilliant :)

  16. What a perfect review, Keertana! I understand exactly how hard it is to explain when something's missing, and it always happen with an author you know and love. Just think of The Raven Boys, that was how it was for me.
    I doubt I'll read this until the next one comes out, but I'm definitely looking forward to it.
    As I said, absolutely flawless review.

  17. I absolutely love this review Keertana, you know how much I love Gayle Forman's work and I have been nervously anticipating the release of this book, but the fact that you loved it makes me feel tons better. I actually read Where She Went in one day and I have feeling that the same will happen with this book too! :)

  18. EEEEEEE Keertana! I'm SO SO SO excited to read this book. I've read Gayle's If I Stay and Where She Went which I loved so I'm absolutely looking forward to read this book and meet Lulu + Willem ;)

    Awesome review, Keertana ♥ So glad you enjoyed it!

  19. Ohh, I just finished this last night! Same rating for me--I'm not going to read this review just yet since I still might write one, but I'm thrilled to see you enjoyed it, too. :)

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

  20. I am so happy that you enjoyed Just One Day so much, Keertana! Despite not being a fan of If I Stay (I know! What's wrong with me! ;)), I do want to give Just One Day a try. I really like the fact that it's so focused on Allyson's self-discovery and figuring out what she wants out of life. I do want to read a book where I really can appreciate Forman's writing, and this sounds like much more my style.

  21. A lovely review Keertana! I really enjoy books about self-discovery & despite being one of the very few people who didn't enjoy If I Stay & Where she Went, I am still quite eager to read this book, especially after reading your praise.

    Thank-you for sharing :-)


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