Just One Day by Gayle Forman

Just One Day - Gayle Forman
He showed me how to get lost, and then I showed myself how to get found.


Just like this book, I'm divided in three parts. (Not literally of course, I'm still alive, obviously.) But my reactions can be summed up like this: yawn, frustration, and wtf, no?. Let's see why.

Part One - yawn
Just one day opens up with Allyson being bored and disappointed in her trip to Europe her parents sent her on before college. The cities aren't as romantic as in the movies. Allyson just wants to go home and get it over with because of this, and I couldn't care less about her middle class, white girl problems. She's on a trip some people can only dream of, and sure, Europe might not be the magical place some people make it out to be in movies, but it's still amazing (objectively speaking, of course). It's more than just the big tourist attractions (Big Ben, Colosseum, and what more). Yet, all Allyson does is complain and whine, making it impossible to care for her.

Introducing Willem. Traveler Willem who is always smirking and laughing and sprouting off pretentious stuff about stains and love and freedom. With Willem, the author is all tell and no show, creating nothing but a hollow aura of a supposed personality that's supposed to be charming around him. Allyson does something so out of character for her - she agrees to let this stranger take her to Paris for the day before she's heading home to the States. Suddenly everything is the magical Europe she wanted it to be when he's showing her the city. When she isn't complaining about every single woman in this book, that is. Then it's all about how she's not pretty enough, how every other woman wants Willem (or some other boy) and how Allyson could never measure up to any of them.

Yup, Allyson's a complete Mary Sue.

Moving on, Allyson and Willem spend a day, full with adventures and flirtation, but due to the (my?) inability to sympathize with any of these two, it's mainly just a description (sometimes wrong) of Europe and Paris. Then. when the day is over, Willem is gone and Allyson must return to the States.

The first part is simply about a young woman complaining about how she's not pretty or interesting enough, and whining about her middle class struggles. Which is the entire reason for the yawn. Add in a supposedly charming boy and something very close to instalove, and that's the whole recipe for falling asleep.

Part Two - Frustration
Part two deals with the falling out of Allyson's trip to Europe. When she arrives at college, her mother has planned out her coming years for her. It's decided Allyson is to do pre-med, and her mother is constantly checking up on her. Allyson, who's falling into a depression, can do little about her situation and feels lost. Her grades are dropping, her old best friend is becoming more and more distant, and Allyson is generally very lost.

This part of the story is a great deal better than the first. Seeing Allyson's own frustration with her situation (both with college and her mother) is easier to relate to. Expectations versus what can actually be done. For a year, we follow Allyson through her year at college. Of her trying to hide the truth from her parents and almost friends. Of her trying to understand what she wants and needs. And his is the kind of story I appreciate.

At the same time as I sympathized and related to Allyson, she's still a Mary Sue and some parts frustrated me to no end. For example, while it's clear Allyson is depressed and wishes to hide this fact from her parents, it doesn't give her the right to let her parents spend 40k on her going into pre-med when she's actually taking pottery classes without letting her parents know about it. Here's the thing: you don't do that with other people's money. So I felt the frustration Allyson had while facing her depression and trying to force herself through college, and at the same time frustration over Allyson's at times childish behavior.

Part Three - wtf,no?
This part will make least sense as I don't want to spoil the ending. But basically, after a year, Allyson decided to go back to Paris, hoping to find answers. This I too appreciated. She's faced her depression and is now looking for truths about herself and also the time spent in Paris a year ago. There's a great difference in the Allyson from the year before and the Allyson returning to Paris. She's stronger and determined. Trying to find Willem again isn't an easy task though.

Here comes the wtf, no? part. Because we learn close to nothing about Willem in the beginning (and the relationship between him and Allyson was forced at best) it's hard to feel and understand Allyson's need to see him again. During her search for Willem, Allyson does find answers, both about herself and him. When the ending finally draws near, Allyson had almost, almost won me over. Her musings on their time together and what it meant to her is nothing but raw truths. Had the book ended two or three pages before the actual ending, I would've been all over that. As it is, I think the author went one step further than necessary (but completely necessary of you want a sequel...). It is really the last two pages that caused the wtf, no? reaction in me, everything prior to that was part frustration over Allyson's obsession with Willem - that still, due to all the telling in the first part on his character, wasn't convincing to me - and part cheering Allyson on for her newfound strength.

So while Just One Day takes a good look at depression, it's also lacking in characterization of its secondary character (mainly Willem). The first part wasn't capturing enough with its all tell, no show writing and lack of characters to sympathize with. But the second part is worth praise for its portrayal of depression, and then the last part swoops in and is both great and bad. All in all, a decent read that could've done with better characterization.