Review: Just One Day – Gayle Forman

“Sheltered American good girl, Allyson, and wandering free-spirited Dutchman, Willem, spend a single magical day together in Paris before they are mysteriously separated. In the ensuing year of looking for the other, they both wind up finding more than they ever imagined. The duet of books and a novella explore the forces of fate versus will, of luck versus love—and the happiness that can be found when such seeming opposites intersect.” – An excerpt from Forman’s official website.

The book starts off with Allyson finishing high school at age 18 and going on this magical ‘Teen Tour” around Europe. Allyson, an intrinsically lost character, doesn’t strike the audience as the romantic type. In fact she never completely immerses herself into her travels throughout England, like the ‘typical’ tourist. The ‘Teen Tour’ Group on the other hand juxtapose her monotonous interest towards being in England. Forman depicts Allyson as an outsider looking into the world. A girl in the crowd, but oddly disassociating herself with the people in it. Highly influenced by Shakespeare, Forman includes plays like, ‘Macbeth’, ‘Hamlet’ and most of all ‘As You Like it’. Through these plays stems her transition into ‘adventure’. Essentially, her life turns when a young actor named Willem in an underground troupe performs “As You Like It”. Ultimately leading Allyson to a rabbit hole. Love. She travels into the heart of travel, spontaneity, and everything in between.

Allyson inherently comes in close contact with the art of theatre, or in other words pure expression. Enchanted by Willem’s performance, and by the quick glances, Allyson already taps into a version of herself America had never been able to give her. Adventure.

The anticipation hit it’s climax when Willem and Allyson decide to spontaneously take a trip to Paris from London. Here is when my expectations about this novel began to tumble. I thought this day was going to be a dream. Everything bucolic, something different. I thought they would fall in love, and the heat of the moment would bring out something bigger and extraordinary. But going to Paris, Forman centred their relationship based off an intimacy I wasn’t particularly fond of. A love that I believe had a melancholic twist to it. As much as it was wildly romantic, their intimacy wasn’t something vulnerable or beautifully tragic. I feel like it was necessity. For once they felt alive, in the moment. Back home, Allyson was in fact Allyson, but in Paris, she was Lulu, someone who took a leap of faith. Willem also, was this unpredictable roamer, but with Allyson he was stagnant, remote. Both Willem and Allyson had come together in perfect agreement. I loved the dynamics played behind this, from Allyson’s jealousy to the mysterious Celine, I just feel as if their love wasn’t entirely love. I feel like it was platonic in a sense that they were both at a time where they felt lost, and they came to find someone who thought the same.

There was this concept of only having a ‘day’ that constantly ran through their minds, which I felt influenced their romance a lot. It even followed Allyson back to America where she contemplated whether he had left her that morning in Paris, or whether he was going to come back. Another aspect of taking chance… When Allyson went back to the United States, she felt dispossessed, as if some part of her was left in the memory of her and Willem. For months the idea of losing him, was really a cover up for the loss she had felt for herself. Taking up science based subjects exhausted her, to the point she college became everything she never was. Through losing herself in Paris, her old self was no longer inviting. Ultimately, she became enthralled by the idea of Paris again, the idea of Willem and recapturing sparks. So, through this section, the novel became essentially a novel of self-discovery. I particularly felt bored throughout this whole section whilst reading it, as I wanted to focus on the romance aspect. However, I came to understand that Allyson’s experience was so extraordinary to her, that to feel alive again, she’d have to recapture it, even if that means to go to Paris again.

As much as this novel holds the exterior of a romance, I feel as if it is a bildungsroman, a novel where Allyson has to lose herself in order to find herself.

By deciding to go back to Paris a year later, she revisits all of the places where she had spent with Willem. Interestingly, in this section Allyson saw how lifeless and different the places were. They held her memories, but they didn’t hold the life she had desperately yearned for. It was through her friendship with Australian, Wren, she decided to create new memories, take a turn on her life. Decide to go to Croatia, decide to not want to see Willem. Here, I was surprised and buggered when I was reading this. I felt that there was no purpose, and that since she had made it to Holland (where Willem was born), surely she must be tempted to take that chance, become Lulu again. But Forman continued to surprise me. As much as you think you know it, the author turns it completely. So I sat through and watched Allyson wait to turn around until she sees him at a local performance of ‘As You Like It’. Here her flames reignited, she supposedly fell in love all over again, sensing a ‘trueness’ as he recited the words “forever and a day”.

By the end, Allyson decides to visit Willem the morning after the show. As she knocks on the door, all she can say is “Hi Willem, I’m Allyson”. Meeting a year later at an apartment block, just the two of them, was the perfect setting. I feel that it couldn’t be as confrontational as that. In this last part, Allyson becomes face to face with herself. By meeting Willem, she says her real name. Here she tells the truth to not only Willem but to herself. Forman keeps the mystery of Willem in her next novel ‘Just One Year’, but here I came to an understanding that Allyson needed to free herself from the idea that Lulu was in some distant country, away. Lulu was within her, a part of her. That Willem had shared that one day with Allyson.

I don’t know what type of love they have, but Forman has a way to keep the reader engaged.

Overall I would give this a 4 out of 5 stars. It isn’t the best book I’ve read, but the relationship between Allyson and Willem seems so unique, I can’t completely wrap my head around it, which I like. I do recommend reading it, but don’t expect too much… Keep your mind open.

Note: This is my first book review so sorry if I seem to be repetitive. I was trying to encapsulate me whole opinion into a readable passage.

Make sure to buy the book on BookDepository if you’re interested. Here’s my link: 

 – Locke Dor