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REVIEW: Just One Day by Gayle Forman

Dear Ms. Forman:

Thanks to Jane’s foray into the genre last year, I’ve grown curious about New Adult novels. I’ve given a couple a try within the past month and the results have left me rather dubious. That said, I’ve enjoyed novels featuring older teens who are graduating or have just graduated from high school. Based on some recommendations, I picked up If I Stay and Where She Went and loved them both. So I eagerly looked forward to your new novel. Unfortunately, I don’t think it lived up to the hype.

Forman-Just-One-DayAllyson Healey has lived her entire life in a neat little box mapped out by her parents. But during a European tour after high school graduation, she meets an actor named Willem. There’s instant attraction and Allyson is charmed. When Willem invites her to spend one day in Paris with him, she decides to be impulsive for once and agrees to accompany him instead of heading to London with her best friend.

That day in Paris is magical and Allyson learns to take life as it comes, to pounce on the chances that come her way. But after a night of sex, she wakes up to find herself alone. Devastated, Allyson returns to London to meet up with her friend, and from there to the U.S. where she heads off to college in the fall. What follows is a year of self-discovery and picking up the pieces after Allyson’s first attempt at seizing the day results in disaster.

Despite my best intentions to keep an open mind, I go into novels with expectations. If I Stay and Where She Went were so emotionally visceral and I suppose I expected more of that here. I didn’t really get it.

Maybe it was the pacing. The summer stint in Europe took up more than a third of the novel. That doesn’t leave much room for self-discovery. In truth, what happens is that Allyson spends half of her freshman year in college in a deep depression. She attempts to return to the box outlined for her but finds she no longer fits because she’s discovered the world the exists beyond it. This dissonance affects all aspects of her life. Her once-perfect grades plummet. Her friendships stumble and fail.

Of course, all that would have been fine within the context of a story if more weight had been given to the idea of self-discovery. Instead the shadow of Willem dominated everything. I just can’t get behind the portrayal of a one-night stand derailing someone’s life so badly. Yes, she was a teenager — an older one, true, but still a teenager. But even so, Allyson wasn’t a virgin. She’d had a boyfriend. Yes, she thought she’d fallen in love. But because of her age, I wasn’t convinced. This is my age speaking but we know this story. One-night stands where the girl thinks she has a deep connection with the guy but the guy acts like he barely even knows her the next morning? Such a common tale. I realize knowing it happens is different from having it actually happen to you but the entire thing left a bad taste in my mouth.

Part of my feelings can be chalked up to the knowledge that Just One Day is the first half of a duology. The follow-up will be told from Willem’s point of view. I can already guess how it’ll go. He didn’t actually leave her alone the next morning. He had a reason! He’s not an asshole. If Allyson had only waited and had faith in their love, there’d been no reason for that year of moping. It was all just a misunderstanding. But if that’s the case, I would have liked for Allyson’s half of the tale to focus more on self-discovery and globe-trotting, the latter of which takes up less than 100 pages of the novel.

In many ways, I think Just One Day is attempting to replicate the magic of If I Stay and Where She Went. If that’s the case, it fails. It didn’t have the same romantic and emotional impact. The themes of self-actualization and discovery despite — or in spite of — life-changing love don’t ring as strongly. If there’d been more focus on Allyson learning to enjoy life for herself and on her own terms instead of her life being affected by Willem on many levels, maybe I would have enjoyed it more. That, I feel, is the spark missing from this story. Theoretically, I like the idea of chance meetings altering the shape of your life. But what I dislike is that chance meeting becoming the source of all your sadness, joy, and motivation. How is that empowering? C

My regards,

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Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!


  1. Elyssa Patrick
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 12:30:51

    I loved Gayle Forman’s first duology. Actually I’d read IF I STAY and was then surprised that there was another one coming out since IIS seemed like such a complete book to me. But I was super excited to hear she was writing another duology, and then I saw the concept and I immediately thought of that Ethan Hawke/Julie Delpy duology movie. I don’t think that had a HEA?

    But regardless I sort of get what Allyson experiences. I shudder to think about when I was younger and was totally obsessed with this hot waiter. In my defense though, he did have really nice blue eyes. So it can happen where you meet someone who changes your world and then thrown into a tailspin when things don’t work out as you thought it would. Bouncing back and getting out of that rut is super hard.

  2. John
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 13:14:45

    I enjoyed IF I STAY but have yet to read WHERE SHE WENT. Needless to say, it is on my list.

    Jia, if you like this idea in theory (love in a day/love at first sight) for an experimental YA contemporary, I cannot recommend Jennifer E. Smith’s THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT enough. It had everything I wanted in a contemporary with a unique writing style (though it could trip you up if you focus too much on it, as it’s present-tense-third-person, I believe, which is not very common in my reading.)

    Also – Anna and the French Kiss, because I can’t remember if you’ve read it or not and it’s always, always something that I recommend to people looking for an awesome YA contemporary read. :)

  3. cleo
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 13:20:53

    @Elyssa Patrick: I thought of that movie too – Before Sunrise, which I loved. It doesn’t have an hea, but it also doesn’t have an unhappy ending. They part, but on good terms. In the sequel, Before Sunset, they reconnect 9 years later. And apparently there’s a third movie, Before Midnight, coming out this year.

    @ Jia – “This is my age speaking but we know this story.” – Exactly. You’ve perfectly summarized why I’m not the right audience for New Adult stories. Instead of being charmed by reading about youngsters experiencing this stuff for the first time, I tend to get impatient with them. (Especially the whole “go to bed with a wonderful guy, wake up next to an asshole” thing – didn’t she watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer reruns? That’s the whole Buffy-Angel romantic arc)

  4. Jane
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 14:22:07

    @John: It was third person present tense I believe. I just finished reading it. I think your POV is so interesting because it didn’t read all that romantic to me. I felt the struggle between Hadley and her father was more interesting but the resolution was too perfect. I wonder if Jia and I are just too old for some of these books!

  5. Jia
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 15:07:31

    @John: Everyone recommends Anna and the French Kiss to me. I suppose I’ll get around to it one of these days.

    @cleo: It’s been hit or miss for me. I loved Where She Went, which I definitely would label new adult, but Losing It by Cora Carmack was a bit fat DNF for me.

    @Jane: Ha! I wonder the same thing.

  6. John
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 19:01:55

    @Jane: Though I recommend it for a good example of love in a day, I don’t like it because it’s primarily romantic. It’s really not romantic in the sense that it’s sweeping, that it makes me believe that there’s that really solid happy ending – but it makes me believe that something has begun that couldn’t begin again, if that makes sense.

    Totally agreed that it focuses more on other things, as the book is rather short, but I think that the parts of the other plotlines aid the romance. They make it feel more special, like that finding of someone especially understanding is once in a lifetime. It’s hard to tell if that’s just my age talking, but I can’t help but love the possibility.

    @Jia: Definitely get around to it at some point. Also, if you read any LGBTQ YA, you’d probably like The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Two historical-contemporary (ie. 90’s/80’s set) stories that really do the contemporary genre good.

  7. Never Too Fond of BooksJust One Day by Gayle Forman (Just One Day #1) - Review » Never Too Fond of Books
    Aug 26, 2013 @ 05:01:12

    […] Dear Author:┬áTheoretically, I like the idea of chance meetings altering the shape of your life. But what I dislike is that chance meeting becoming the source of all your sadness, joy, and motivation. […]

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