Thursday, January 31, 2013

Just One You

Just One Day
Gayle Forman is notorious for surprising you with a small but powerful book, and she doesn't disappoint with Just One Day. What seems like it might just be a simple romance turns into a very different kind of book, and I think you are going to like the journey!

Allyson is a sheltered high school graduate whose parents want her to "see the world" through a carefully monitored Teen Travel trip. She is reluctant to go, but her best friend is going too, so she packs the emergency kit her mother got her and heads off to England. Towards the end of the trip, Allyson and her friend stumble upon an underground Shakespeare production called Guerilla Will. Allyson is taken by one of the actors who catches up with the girls after the production. Dutch Willem is handsome, mysterious, and everything Allyson has been sheltered from. When he offers to take her to Paris for Just One Day, she realizes this is something she would never do... but Lulu would! 

When Willem nicknames her Lulu, it is like Lulu takes over Allyson. She heads to Paris with Willem, a guy she just met, on an adventure never dreamed she could have. But she wasn't expecting the "just one day" to mean she was left alone in a warehouse in the morning with no idea where she was, how to get home, or money to get there. When she finally admits, hours later, that Willem abandoned her despite their amazing night together, she calls the tour leader who gets her back to England. She returns to the states and continues on with her life, but nothing about Allyson's life is the same.

Usually a strong, confident student, Allyson's freshman year in the pre-med classes her mother registered her for is ugly. Her roommates realize she is a dud, and first semester is a nightmare. When she returns for her second semester, her advisor convinces her to take some different classes to break up her hectic schedule. It is the first time Allyson has ever veered from the plan her mother has arranged for her to go to medical school and become a doctor. But Allyson likes pottery. And Shakespeare, no matter how many ugly memories it brings back. And the saving grace is an unusual man named Dee, a classmate of hers who makes her truly examine who Allyson really is... not who her parents want her to be, or her roommates want her to be, but the real Allyson. The Lulu if you will. And the real Allyson has to know what happened to Willem that day a year ago in Paris...

OK. If you read this review, you have to promise me you will read the whole thing because it is going to describe the wild journey my opinion of this book took from start to finish, and if you stop early, you won't know how the journey ended! So this book started like a mediocre romance that was any parent's nightmare: your sheltered 18 year old daughter agrees to go to a foreign country with a strange, mysterious boy (whom she doesn't even know his last name), very little money, and no one knows where she is going. Sounds like a Liam Neeson thriller, right? Yep. Pretty much. I was waiting for her to get kidnapped and sold into an ugly prostitution ring. That didn't happen, but when Willem abandoned her in the artists' squat, I was intrigued. Maybe this wasn't the cliche novel I was starting to imagine it as (and was shocked Forman would write). And it wasn't...

The Allyson went to college and acted like a whiny, depressed lump and I was totally unimpressed. Yes, honey. Some guy made you think he liked you, you slept with him, and he bolted. It sucks, but is it enough to throw your life away for? I think not! But then I started to realize something. When Allyson starts to take the Shakespeare class and meets Dee, it occurred to me she wasn't acting this way because of Willem (although he was part of it). She missed Lulu! When I realized this, the book took on a whole new light for me. Dee was this amazing guy who morphed himself to any situation he was in. When he a girl saw his pink boots and assumed he was gay, he played gay. When someone heard he was from the Bronx and assumed he was form the ghetto, he played ghetto. He even had a persona he put on to pacify Allyson's parents. Seeing Dee's continuous, unapologetic act made Allyson realize she had been living an act- the one she thought everyone wanted her to live. 

And this is where everything came together for me. It was beautiful really... poetic. I loved it. Dee was a phenomenal character who really made Allyson realize how she had been living her life. It wasn't a romantic relationship, but rather a mutual understanding and respect. And while Allyson's trek back to Paris was clearly to find out about Willem, it was more about finding Lulu- the person Allyson knew she really was. And I loved this transformation in Allyson. More to the point, I loved this novel. It is so much more than a romance, a story about lost love, or even a story about breaking free of your parents. It is about finding yourself. And what 18 year old girl doesn't need to take that journey? So push past the frightening actions of a girl who finally found her will (and took some huge risks that make me cringe) and see the journey of a girl you will be proud of. You won't be sorry!

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