Allyson is supposedly on the trip of a lifetime, only she is not really enjoying it. As a high school graduation present Allyson's parents signed her up for Teen Tours. Teen Tours provides teenagers like Allyson and her best friend Melanie a chaperoned tour of Europe. It isn't as bad as it sounds. In fact everyone except Allyson appears to be having fun and enjoying Europe's 18-year drinking age. Allyson isn't quite sure why Europe's museums, cafes, and historic sites aren't dazzling her as expected. Maybe, as she says at one point, she simply lacks a talent for travel. Or maybe it's because the trip is yet another example of her micromanaged, carefully ordered life. Then Shakespeare happens and Allyson's life changes.
While waiting to see Hamlet an actor named Willem invites Allyson and Melanie to his street troupe's performance of As You Like It. Allyson is a good girl, as her chaperone Ms. Foley calls her, who follows rules and the road map to life that has been laid out for her by her parents. According to Melanie, Allyson is constantly saying no to life. Something about Willem's invitation inspires Allyson to say yes for once. Later, when she is lamenting how her tour is almost over and she never got to see Paris, the once city she really wanted to see, Willem reminds her that it is not too late. Paris is only a chunnel ride away. Before you know it, good girl Allyson is off to Paris with a boy she just met.
When I first read the description of Just One Day I couldn't help but think of the movie Before Sunrise. Two strangers meet and spend twenty-four hours together in the most romantic city in the world. Just One Day starts off like that. Allyson and Willem spend a near perfect day and night together in Paris and then it ends, abruptly. Allyson is shaken by the experience. The last two-thirds of the book is about Allyson processing her experience and figuring out who she is and how to be. It is not just a love story. In saying yes to Willem, Allyson begins to think about her life up to that point and how she wants to live going forward. It is about travel, taking chances, and finding out who she is.
As an adult I sometimes find teen romance stories tiresome and overly simplified. Everything is life or death and now or never. The rest of the world and the other people in it cease to exist for the young lovers. One of the reasons I like Forman's writing is that she presents romance in a grounded context. All of the emotion is there, but so is the rest of the world. Here Allyson has college, new roommates, old friends, and parents to contend with, and they all have their own very valid issues. Her experience with Willem is but one part of her life, albeit a big part that affects her other relationships.
Just One Day focuses on Allyson and how she changes after meeting Willem and going to Paris. Gayle Forman has a habit of writing books in pairs. The second half of this story can be found in Just One Year which I hope to read soon.
This is the third book I've read by Forman. The other two books were If I Stay and Where She Went, both of which I enjoyed immensely. Like Just One Day and Just One Year, If I Stay and Where She Went are her and his stories of a relationship in which Mia and Adam deal with death, career choices, and separation. They are beautifully written stories. With this third book I would definitely count myself as a fan of Gayle Forman.