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.
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.)
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