Saturday, 20 August 2016

Just One Day by Gayle Forman

This book is in SBR's
2016 Top Ten Reads  

Publication date: 8th Januaary 2013
Published by: Dutton Books
Genre: YA Contemporary fiction

Publisher's synopsis
When sheltered American good girl Allyson "LuLu" Healey first meets laid-back Dutch actor Willem De Ruiter at an underground performance of Twelfth Night in England, there’s an undeniable spark. After just one day together, that spark bursts into a flame, or so it seems to Allyson, until the following morning, when she wakes up after a whirlwind day in Paris to discover that Willem has left. Over the next year, Allyson embarks on a journey to come to terms with the narrow confines of her life, and through Shakespeare, travel, and a quest for her almost-true-love, to break free of those confines.

Sooz Book Reviews Gold Seal of Approval

My Review: 
This book was recommended as a good summer read by one of the contributors on the NY Times Book Review Podcast.  It is not a book I would have chosen to read myself, but the recommendation made me curious.

The first line of the book goes like this: 'To be or not to be, that is the questionThat 's from Hamlet's - maybe Shakespeare's, most famous soliloquy.'  The protagonist, Allyson Healey, tells us how she knows this and why it matters to her.  And, having read that first paragraph, I just knew I was going to enjoy the book.  

Just One Day is what I would call a relationship novel.  What I mean by that is that, although not everyone will like it, those who will love it are likely to do so because they can relate to it.  Novels that readers can relate to tend to be profoundly affecting, sometimes triggering old memories, both joyful and melancholic alike.  They are also thought-provoking, possibly leading us to reflect on the human condition and life in general.

Warning - from this point on there are potential spoilers

The first part of the book reminded me of that movie Before Sunrise, in that, following an encounter with a complete stranger - Willem - on a train to London one morning, Allyson finds herself accepting an invitation to spend a day in Paris with him.  Going on that journey with them was a joyful reading experience.  They don't visit any of the obvious places, instead Willem shows Allyson a Paris that only the inhabitants are likely to experience.  Coming back to the relationship point, there is an added bonus for readers who know and love the city of Paris, as you are able to visualize  the various places referenced in you mind's eye (possibly with nostalgia - *smile*).

The second part of the book - when Allyson starts college in Boston -  reminded me of New Moon (the 2nd Twilight book).  Not so much the story but the tone; that sense of loss that, like Bella, Allyson experiences as she struggles to come to terms with her separation from Willem and her inability to overcome her desire to be with him.  She is also haunted by the uncertainty surrounding their separation - which was painful and confusing.  Did he abandon her?  Or did she abandon him?  She is plagued with negative thoughts - reinforced by those close to her that are in the know - and is mostly convinced that she 'got played' by a talented trickster.  And yet, she does not know this for certain and deigns to hope that perhaps she is wrong about that.  There will be readers who have been there and will relate.

So far, this sounds like a straight forward boy-meets-girl kind of story, which to some extent it is, but it is also much more.  Allyson has lived a sheltered life and has been controlled by her parents, particularly her mother, all her life. Despite her age, in their eyes, she is still a child and is treated as such.  She is a passive character who does what she is told and the idea of defying them is unthinkable to her.  This is often at her own expense, as she forfeits her own wishes to satisfy theirs.   That is, until she takes the adventurous decision to throw caution to the wind and spend a day in a foreign city with a complete stranger.  Would she have done so if she hadn't been motivated by an invitation from a handsome man that she was attracted to?  Probably not, but in her search for romance she discovers something else entirely.  On that day in Paris, she took on the persona of an alter ego, 'Lulu', and discovered that 'Allyson' is not her whole self; that there is more to her.  That brave step sets off a chain reaction within her and she is forever changed.  We the readers then get to see her blossom and grow into herself, becoming the person she wants to be.  In doing so, she gains new positive experiences and makes [loyal] friends in unlikely places.  They support and encourage her to face her demons; and to go in search of Willem in the hope of discovering the truth - whatever the truth may be.

In short, this book is less about falling in love with a handsome stranger and more about self-discovery.

I loved the writing style of this book.  It is the kind I aspire to myself - one can hope.

Thanks to the NY Times Book Podcast, I think I have discovered an all-time favourite.

Just One Day is a recommended
2016 Summer Read

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