Book Review: Just One Day by Gayle Forman

Just One Day by Gayle Forman Book: Just One Day
Author: Gayle Forman
Pages: 320
To be Published: January 8, 2013 by Dutton Juvenile (an imprint of Penguin Group USA)
The first line: “What if Shakespeare had it wrong?”

Copy provided by: Publisher 

[This review quotes from a galley, which is uncorrected text.]

In the summer before going to college, Allyson Healy and her best friend, Melanie are on an educational whirlwind teen tour of Europe. While Melanie soaks up every second of the trip, going out drinking every night with the new people she’s met from the trip, Allyson is more comfortable playing the “good girl” role, seeing the sights by day and going back to her hotel at night to watch movies. She doesn’t want to go out and pretend she is someone she isn’t; she just wants to go home. 

Which is why, on the last night of their trip in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, Melanie is so surprised when Allyson suggests that they should ditch the production of Hamlet they’re about to see with their tour to experience an outdoor Guerrilla production of Twelfth Night instead. Allyson is persuaded to go on a whim because of a tall boy with dark eyes and a slight accent who tells her that the night is too great to “waste on tragedy.” The production of Twelfth Night clicks for Allyson in a way that no other Shakespeare play ever has before: she truly feels the story, and not to mention, is fixated on the charming Dutch actor who enticed her there. When the play ends, she cannot help but feel charged and connected to something outside of herself.

The next day on the train to London, Allyson runs into the actor with the lazy smile and sharp eyes, who introduces himself as Willem.

Lulu in Hollywood

Photo from

When Willem tells Allyson that she resembles silent film star Louise Brooks, and begins calling her “Lulu,” she revels in the chance to be someone new, if only for a moment. As Lulu, she can be everything Allyson is not: straightforward, bold, even outright daring. 

Upon arriving in London, she laments to Willem and Melanie that she never got to see Paris. “So go,” Willem says, as though it were nothing. When Allyson tries to protest, giving reasons why it’s impossible, he offers to take her there, for just one day. Despite playing by the rules her entire life, Allyson steps into the shoes of Lulu in that moment and decides to go for it, to say “yes” to life for once. She begs Melanie to cover for her while she goes to Paris with a virtual stranger. 

What follows is an entertaining and heart-wrenching exploration at what happens when two people with an undeniable chemistry embark on a journey together for a very limited time. In Paris, Willem and Lulu take a boat-ride down the canal, share the back of a borrowed bicycle, get lost on purpose on the Metro. They talk about the stains of love, the pains of loss, and the fluidity of time. They spend the day and night together and Allyson begins to wonder how much of Willem is enjoying her company versus Lulu’s. Is there even a difference?  

But when Allyson awakes the next morning, she finds the 20-year-old actor gone, and in his place, there’s only an aching feeling of being used. She is forced to admit defeat and return home, licking her wounds.

The rest of the book follows Allyson’s self-discovery as she goes to college and deals with the new person she has become since Paris. Can she forget Willem, and is that what she wants? And who is she now, Allyson or Lulu? Can she ever go back to being plain old Allyson, or is she forever changed in the wake of being Lulu for just one day? 

Forman masterfully crafts this story which is ultimately about self-acceptance and discovery, about how small changes in life can make huge impacts. While there is the underlying love story that many readers will race to uncover, Just One Day is also about transformations, making decisions for yourself, and learning that identities are fluid, like time. 

This is sure to please fans of Forman’s earlier works, as well as new readers. It would also make a great pairing with Shakespeare classics mentioned throughout the novel (especially visual productions of the plays), especially As You Like It and Twelfth NightWithout a doubt, upon completion, readers will anxiously await the next book, Just One Year (expected in the fall of 2013) to hear Willem’s story and find out what happens.  

Audience: Shakespeare fans, thespians, anyone who has ever wondered who they are and if they are living the life they are supposed to be living, travelers (or those who wish they could travel), high school grads about to go to college, both teens and adults

Themes: love lost and found, identity, altered identities (in disguise), search for home and self, questioning love, serendipity and fate, traveling abroad, summer before college, how friendships change, re (discovering) Shakespeare, first loves, love at first sight, trust, self-discovery and acceptance

Readalikes (If you love this, you will also like): 

√ The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith 
√ Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins (a little bit “cuter” than this book, but it has some similar themes)
√ As You Like It and Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (these are the plays mentioned most heavily in the book)
√ One Day by David Nicholls (an adult book, but it has lots of crossover teen appeal with many similar themes)
√ 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson (might be a stretch, not sure about this one)

Connect with Gayle Forman:

On her Website / On her Blog / On Twitter / On Goodreads / On Facebook 

Any other readalike suggestions or thoughts on the book? Please comment below!

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