Review of “Just One Day” by Gayle Forman

After loving (and perhaps because of loving) Forman’s previous books, If I Stay and Where She Went, I felt great disappointment over this one.

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It’s a story about Allyson Healey, 18, who has lived her whole life closely managed by her caring but uber-helicopter mom. She never really experiences any freedom. For just one day, however, she happens to “escape” by impulsively leaving a “teen tour” of Europe and then spending the time in Paris with a handsome Dutch Shakespearean actor named Willem.

Thereafter, Allyson is never the same. And now it is we, the readers, who are never free: of the expressions of angst, the obsession with Willem (who everyone says is a womanizing cad anyway), the identity crises, the endless permutations of “who am I really?”, and the inevitable journey to Oz to get back her courage.

Discussion: There is a great deal of heavy-handedness in this novel. With the help of a character who is a college Shakespeare teacher, Forman goes for didacticism and repetition to anvil onto our heads – over and over – the themes of confused identity in Shakespeare’s plays, and the correspondences to Allyson’s life. [Here is just one of the many, many examples, as Professor Glenny talks about “As You Like It”:]

The line between true self and feigned self is blurred on all sides. Which I think is a rather handy metaphor for falling in love.”

When Allyson, endlessly ruminating on her one day with Willem, has one of her many “epiphanies” late in the book, saying “Maybe it was just pretend. But at some point, it stopped being pretend,” I wanted to yell to her, “at some point”: get over it!!!!!!!”

Evaluation: The main character in this “coming of age” novel takes “only” a year to grow, but to this reader, it felt like eons. (I would call it “A Coming of Jurassic Age” novel.)

Rating: 2/5

Note: There is to be a sequel, presenting the story from Willem’s point of view. Let’s hope he’s more interesting.

Published by Dutton Books, 2013

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15 Responses

  1. If I Stay and Where She Went (particularly the second, I think) would be incredibly hard to beat, so I’m not surprised you were disappointed. From your review it sounds like Forman wanted to write another of those but failed. I can see how the repetition and pondering over one day, freedom or not, would get annoying. I’ll still read it, but judging by your response (and others have said similar) it would have to be with no expectations.

  2. Interesting. Most of the reviews I have seen for this are overwhelmingly positive! I am looking forward to reading it, but I am not sure I am looking forward to a year long wait for the next book.

  3. I’m still laughing: “(I would call it “A Coming of Jurassic Age” novel.)”

  4. Oh, don’t you hate it when an author you love lets you down?

  5. Oh no! What a disappointment to have a loved author resort to cliches and heavy handedness.

  6. Awesome review. This one is definitely not for me, but your review was certainly honest and entertaining. Love it.

  7. Wow. I think this may be the first unfavorable review I have read for Just One Day! It’s been on my list of books to buy soon because I loved her previous two as well. And all the reviews were so positive. I hate it when I get to an auto-buy point with an author, then they disappoint me ~ I’m sorry that happened to you!

  8. I was so annoyed with Allyson for mooning over Willem for so long-he did not seem worth it after just one day. I did really love Dee and the college Shakespeare stuff though-at least it was more interesting than watching Allyson flounder.

  9. I need to read the sequel to If I Stay but not so sure that I will read this one. I hate being disappointed!

  10. This is sad because I also loved her earlier two novels. I may pick it up anyway but it doesn’t look good for me that you disliked it so much.

  11. Nope. Not for me, I guess.

  12. Young love … so dumb and annoying to others!

  13. Oh no! I had high hopes for this one. Like you, my hopes were raised by her other novels.

  14. Aww, I’m sorry you didn’t like this one. I had really high hopes for it!

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