Just One Day is a heartwarming and beautifully written book by Gayle Forman.
Allyson Healey’s life has always been planned, structured and ordered – just like her suitcase. Then, on the last day of her three-week post-graduation European tour, she meets Willem. A free-spirited, unguided actor, Willem is everything Allyson is not. But when Willem asks Allyson to abandon her plans and come to Paris with him, she says yes. This uncharacteristic decision leads to a day of both risk and romance. All it takes is 24 hours to change Allyson’s life forever…
I absolutely loved reading Just One Day! I’d wanted to read this book ever since finishing If I Stay and Where She Went. This book was definitely really different to those two, but I can’t say I liked it any more or any less than the other books by Gayle Forman. This book is ultimately about self-discovery. I loved going on the journey with Allyson to discover who she really is and to feel comfortable being that person entirely. It was a lovely experience and I definitely was able to relate to it.
This book and all the journeys that Allyson embarked upon definitely felt real. I felt as though this wasn’t just fiction in a lot of times. I was completely swept up into the story and I loved being dragged all across the world with Allyson on her adventures. Allyson was a really interesting character. She was trying to be the perfect daughter than her parents always wanted her to be, the Lulu that she had pretended to be while in Paris, and also stay the same childhood friend to Melanie, who constantly reinvents herself. Allyson also had an air of vulnerability about her which makes it impossible for us not to love her. It was heartbreaking, but also devastatingly realistic, to see Allyson grow apart from not only Melanie, but her parents as well. But Allyson made new friends: her roommate at collage, Dee, a student from her ‘Shakespeare Out Loud’ class, and then some Australian tourists in Paris when she finally returns.This book is really about Allyson trying to find her place in the world.
Another character I loved getting to know was Melanie. She was the type of person who changes what they look like and changes their personality as quick as you change your clothes. Every time Allyson saw her, she was like a different person. In the beginning, the friendship between Allyson and Melanie was really strong, but I quickly realised that Melanie had some issues with the fact that Allyson seemed ‘too good’. We get the impression very quickly that Melanie isn’t controlled by anyone and she lives life how she wants. But Allyson begins the book as a more reserved character, always thinking about what others would think of her. She’s the type of person who wants to make everyone pleased with her and make her parents proud. But as the book progressed, we could see that Melanie was no longer satisfied by those attributes in Allyson. When they went to different collages, it also seemed like more work to keep their friendship alive. I know how difficult it can be when you haven’t seen a friend for a while and it seems as though they’ve changed and how awkward it can be to try and have the same conversations like you used to. In a way, it was saddening to see their friendship diminish.
I really liked meeting Dee. He felt like such a big contribution to this book. I loved the scenes between him and Allyson. Dee was a person who changed themselves to fit what the other person wanted them to be like or saw them as. I really understood that feeling of having to change your personality for different people because I used to do that. Perhaps I still do, but I’ve decided I want to be the person I really am and to let people decide if they want to be friends with that person or not, rather than getting to know me as someone I’m not. I get how hard it is to be yourself the whole time and how sometimes it feels like showing your true self to everyone else is like walking around without any clothes on – there’s nothing to hide behind; no mask to wear and no façade to keep up. Because of those reasons, I loved Dee and his friendship with Allyson felt really well developed.
A character that I was unsure about was Willem. He seemed really sweet when we were first introduced to him, but the more time we spent with him, the more I realised there wasn’t anything really in particular that I liked about him. He was a little funny and I loved his sense of adventure and living, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel something was off about him. When him and Allyson were going around Paris together and Allyson saw him being undressed by another girl and letting other girls flirt with him, it made me really not like him. And then when he’d just leave Allyson alone, it frustrated me. Allyson got really scared and worried about being in a foreign country and not knowing French and I felt like in those times, Willem was being a real douche. After he and Allyson got separated, I was devastated. But the more I read on, the more I realised that I didn’t like Willem after all and I didn’t want him and Allyson to get together. When Allyson embarked upon her travels, I kept thinking she’d see Willem someplace and I had conflicted thoughts about that. A part of me wanted her and Willem to be together and be happy, but another part of me just didn’t trust Willem and hated him for some of the things he did.
Besides these main characters, I felt like quite a few minor characters were underdeveloped. I would have liked to know more backstory to a few of them, like Allyson’s dad, and I just would have liked to feel as though I understood them a little better. Learning the backstory of Allyson’s parents was really interesting. Because Allyson was an only child and her parents were unsuccessful in having other children, she and her parents had always believed that they ‘quit while they were ahead’. Willem questions why you would quit while you’re ahead, because he knew people only quit when they were behind. Allyson remembered this and the scene where she talked to her parents about that and how she felt as though they were trying to make her be as much as all the kids they never had. That part of the book was really interesting. She felt as though there was a lot of pressure on her to be perfect and to be the child that her parents wanted her to be. As an only child, I kind of understand how she felt and this would probably be the same for a lot of people. Generally, Allyson was just a really relatable character and I enjoyed spending time with her.
I had mixed feelings about the ending. I both liked and hated the fact that this book ended where it did. I’m not going to spoil it for those who haven’t read this book, but for those of you that have, you must feel my pain. How can it end like that? What’s going to happen next? As soon as I finished this book, I immediately ordered the next book and I’m desperate to read it. But I liked this ending because it gave me room to imagine what was going to happen. However, there’s a fine line between giving us not enough room to imagine what was going to happen and having everything closed off, and giving us too much room. This book borders on too much room, but I guess I haven’t read the next book or Just One Night, the novella/short story (if I’m correct). I absolutely cannot wait to read those as soon as possible!
Overall, I definitely recommend Just One Day for everyone looking for a beautiful book about self-discovery and friendship. The characters were really interesting to get to know and the situations and everything that happened felt really real. I’d give Just One Day a score of 9 out of 10. I can’t wait to read Just One Year!