Allyson has lived her life exactly the way she’s been told to. As a result, she’s got perfect grades, a bright future, and absolutely no life experience to call her own. When she meets world-traveler Willem at an underground performance of Twelfth Night in England, her entire life is thrown into question. The two embark on a 24-hour journey that will forever alter her perspective. But how can just one day have such a lasting impact on her?
Here’s the problem with Gayle Forman’s eagerly-anticipated novel: it takes forever and a day to get started. I’m not joking–the novel doesn’t really get going until its final third. A fairly predictable start make this a novel some readers will absolutely devour, though.
There’s also the fact that Allyson’s psychological crisis, which happens about a third of the way through the novel, never feels totally authentic. It’s hard to buy her total breakdown after her jaunt through Europe, and after a while, her wounded bird persona starts to grate. However, once she starts fighting for what she wants, the novel picks up speed and ends in a satisfying, memorable way.
Of course, there are things here that work really well. The shifting relationship with her childhood best friend is both hard to watch and utterly believable. The introduction of college friend Dee is a welcome relief from Allyson’s angst, and the fact that Dee is an interesting character in and of himself makes his scenes incredibly fun to read.
This is definitely a contemporary YA novel that will find fans, especially readers looking to do some truly excellent armchair travel. I just wish the novel hadn’t taken so long to get started, because the last part of the book is so very strong. Here’s to hoping the companion novel (due out next fall) has the starting momentum this one lacked.
Just One Day by Gayle Forman. Dutton Juvenile: 2013. Library copy.