Just One Day by Gayle Forman. Grades 7+ Dutton Juvenile, January 2013. 369 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.
When Allyson's parents give her a European vacation as a graduation present, it's supposed to be the trip of a lifetime. Somehow, once Allyson is over there... it kind of sucks. She dutifully goes on the tours, dutifully wears the expensive bulky watch her mother gave her, dutifully goes back to the hotel rooms to watch movies in the evenings when the other teens are going out to bars. Even the fact that her best friend Melanie is there with her doesn't help. Until Allyson meets Willem on their way back to London for the final leg. Willem sees something in her, something Allyson is not sure really exists: a spontaneous, courageous, fun girl. So Allyson decides to do something fun and courageous and spontaneous and go to Paris with him for just one day. And that, my friends, changes everything.
This is the story of that one day and also the year that happens after. As I was reading this book, I told my boyfriend the basic plot of the book and he immediately said, "Uh uh, no way. That would never happen." But that's actually kind of the point. Before going to Paris, Allyson was the type of person who would never have done that. Her day in Paris causes her to take a deep look at herself, at the life she's been living (or not-living, as the case may be). She's figuring out that she's not actually the person she wants to be. She's struggling to decide who she does want to be and how to get there. I identified with Allyson because it was right at her age that I started looking at my life that way, too.
It's great to see a YA book dealing with after-graduation and the first year of college, especially to see a protagonist who's struggling and still fighting to get out from under her parents' wings. The first year of college is not easy for a lot of people and this book is a great depiction of how it can be when it's not easy (and also that that's not the end of the world). I wouldn't call this a "new adult" title; I still feel like it's solidly YA, but definitely a story aimed at older teens who are starting to think about life beyond high school and what college may be like.
I was a huge fan of Gayle Forman's previous novels, If I Stay and Where She Went. When I heard the synopsis and saw the length of this book, I sighed. It sounded like a fluffy love story and possibly a little bloated (100 pages longer than her previous books). I'm happy to report that I was wrong on both counts. Just One Day is more than a love story and I definitely wouldn't call it fluffy. It was longer than Forman's previous books, but I couldn't put it down and didn't want it to end.
Gayle Forman captures the college freshman experience for a kid who's not used to making new friends, for a "good girl" who always goes with the flow, for a teen who's terrified because she's really not sure what she's doing. I was rooting for Allyson the whole way through.
Just One Day is on shelves now.
For the European setting, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins.
For the bittersweet-but-hopeful tone: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.
For the whirlwind romance and travel aspect: Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson.