Just One Year: review

October 8, 2013 2013, 4 star books, Gayle Forman, Kate, realistic fiction 43 ★★★★

Just One Year: reviewJust One Year by gayle forman
Series: Just One Day #2
Published by Dutton Children's on October 10th, 2013
Genres: contemporary
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
When he opens his eyes, Willem doesn’t know where in the world he is—Prague or Dubrovnik or back in Amsterdam. All he knows is that he is once again alone, and that he needs to find a girl named Lulu. They shared one magical day in Paris, and something about that day—that girl—makes Willem wonder if they aren’t fated to be together. He travels all over the world, from Mexico to India, hoping to reconnect with her. But as months go by and Lulu remains elusive, Willem starts to question if the hand of fate is as strong as he’d thought. . . .

The romantic, emotional companion to Just One Day, this is a story of the choices we make and the accidents that happen—and the happiness we can find when the two intersect.

Just One Day was one of my favorite books of 2013.  It follows a young American woman, Allyson, as she abandons her tour group on a senior class trip to embark on an impulsive, one-day-long romance in Paris with a worldly young Dutchman named Willem.  And when that day is over, Allyson picks up the pieces and spends the next year reassembling herself and growing into a strong, independent woman who fits into the big world that has always existed outside the safe confines of her upper middle-class existence.

That book works largely because of Allyson.  She is such a gift of a narrator, and feels so incredibly real to me  She’s the kind of young woman I imagine my mother might once have been. And while I loved Allyson (maybe because I loved her), I felt deeply distrustful of Willem.  He is just so, so similar to who I was at his age—in good ways and bad—and people like us are not kind to the Allysons of the world.  I started crying halfway through their day together in Paris in anticipation of what was going to happen.  And then I cried again when I was proven right.  I kind of cried a lot, I guess.

So here’s the weird thing about Just One Year: Very early in the book, which is told from Willem’s perspective, we learn why he left, and what happened to him afterwards, and… It’s wrong.  When I read his explanation, I set the book down and didn’t reopen it for about a week, because, guys, I know Willem.  I know the kind of fear that drives him, and I know why he behaves the way he does, and the explanations laid out in the book were not honest.  It felt—and this is going to sound absolutely insane, because it is—it felt like a betrayal, like I was being told that Willem and I, with our crippling interpersonal claustrophobia, weren’t good enough have our stories told honestly.

So I took a break.  I read a few palate-cleansing romance novels.  I revisited some of my favorite poetry.  In the course of my reading, I happened upon “Travel,” by Edna St Vincent Millay:

The railroad track is miles away,
And the day is loud with voices speaking,
Yet there isn’t a train goes by all day
But I hear its whistle shrieking.

All night there isn’t a train goes by,
Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming,
But I see its cinders red on the sky,
And hear its engine steaming.

My heart is warm with friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing;
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.

…And it filled all my hollow places with a deep, cold, almost crippling ache (I know that sounds cheesy, but I can’t describe the visceral reaction I had any other way), and just like that I was pulled back into Willem’s story.

I’m so glad I was, and that I gave this novel a second chance, because it really is a lovely companion piece to Allyson’s journey.  It is a completely different book from the previous one, though, because Willem and Allyson have to grow in very different ways—she needs to break free from her stifling, somewhat controlling parents and spend some time alone to figure out what it is that she wants from life; he needs to snap out of his deliberately lonely existence and learn to actually commit to things outside what comes easily to him—and because Allyson’s story grows outward, it is ultimately much more compelling than Willem’s, which feels almost like it is shrinking as it develops.

Just One Year also suffers a bit early on in comparison to its predecessor because the travel scenes—which are otherwise excellent—kind of rehash things we’ve already seen through Allyson’s eyes.  I really appreciate Forman’s sticking to the pattern, established in the previous book, of introducing a catalyst for change about a third of the way through the novel, but in this case that first third drags. It’s really kind of a bummer.

And I hate to say this because, again, we really are kindred spirits, but Willem’s emotional detachment makes him a difficult narrator to empathize with.  He meets some lovely people (I particularly love Kate and Prateek, and poor Ana Lucia deserves her own novel), and he is able to form strong attachments almost immediately, but he never seems to connect with the people in his life in any meaningful way, and I found myself, as the reader, feeling as though I was being kept at arm’s length for a large part of the story.

Still, while I would consider this to be one of Forman’s lesser works, it is very, very good, and is absolutely worth reading if you enjoyed Just One Day and are interested in seeing Willem’s side of the story.   And I may be in the minority here, but I found the ending to be enormously satisfying.

P.S. Fans of Forman’s If I Stay books will be happy to see a tiny update about a beloved character from that series.  It’s kind of exciting.


An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.



43 Responses to “Just One Year: review”

  1. Mel

    Hi Kate,

    Loved your review of Just One Year! I actually really enjoyed both stories very much, and I think Gayle Forman writes the Male POV very perceptively in all her novels. I find Willem’s character really interesting and liked how the book sort of went back and explained how his commitment phobia came about, and how he was a bit of a lost soul really. Have to say I find the ending slightly done too quickly for my liking – I,m all for not having an overt ending… but I would love it if Forman decided to write a short novella on what happened next – presumable in America. I read If I Stay and Where She Went straight after Just One Day/Just One year – so feel there a similarities between the plot lines of the two series – eg: overcoming fear / loss etc…. wit out being too spoilery for anyone who hasn’t read If I stay or Where She went, the off hand remark about the person in Just One year – would that be the male protagonist? I can’t recall reading that but maybe its because I read the both series in reverse order!

    Just One Day is definitely on my favs list – with its travelogue references it reminds me a little of Anna and the French Kiss.

    • Kate Bond

      YES. All of this.

      And yeah, it was Adam. At the end, Willem is listening to a new singer/songwriter he discovered, Adam Wilde. It made me so, so happy that he’s branched out and is doing his own thing musically.

      • Mel

        Ah ha! Re read the last chapter of just one year and got the references to where she went! Yeah,I really like how Forman uses that reference device to link the two series. It’s good to know how a fav character is getting on and makes it all the more realistic in my book. I jjust wish I had read them in the right order!!! Thanks for that.

  2. Lauren @ Love is not a triangle

    I was so very worried about this story, because I am much more like Allyson and was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to connect as well with Willem. We had similar fears, but for opposite reasons. I agree that the beginning was slow, and the pacing was not as quick. And I love how you talked about the differences in the scope and directions of Allyson and Willem’s journeys. But I ended up falling so hard for Willem in this one. And in the end when Kate confronts him about why he really left that morning, I think we see that he wasn’t quite so noble as he seemed in the beginning. I think that was a true honest moment for him in the story. I also loved the end so much. I think it was perfect. Anyway, I’m rambling, but what I really want to tell you is that this is an absolutely stunning personal review, and the fact that this book had the ability to affect you so deeply speaks volumes. I’m excited to see more of your reviews on this site!

  3. starryeyedjen

    I was already nervous about reading this series, but I’m even more so now. I actually just read If I Stay and Where She Went, and I loved that series, so I’m glad to hear we get a little update in this series. I’m disappointed to hear that these two novels feature concurrent narratives rather than a continuation of the story…it’s part of the reason I waited to read Just One Day. Guess I should have done my research, huh? I still think I’ll pick this series up because I love Forman’s writing, but I don’t think I’ll make it a priority now.

  4. Sarah Johnson

    Beautiful review! I’m so nervous about picking this book. I’m not sure if I want to hear Williem’s story of why he left. I’m glad the story started to work out again for you. An update on a character from If I Stay makes me extremely happy though!

  5. Molli Moran

    I am thinking strongly of grabbing a paperback of Just One Day soon to read. I’ve only read If I Stay by GF but it really made an impact on me.

    That poem is beautiful; I’ve not read much of Edna’s work but what I HAVE read, I adore. (See my years-long love of “What Lips My Lips Have Kissed”.) Knowing that it is what pulled you back into Just One Year sort of gave me a tear-y feeling.

    I can’t wait to experience these books for myself – to see Allyson’s growth, and to see Willem’s journey for myself. Lovely, thoughtful review, Kate!

    Molli | Once Upon a Prologue

    • Kate Bond

      Thank you, Molli!

      And wait, hold the phone–are you saying you haven’t read Where She Went? The absolutely amazing sequel to Just One Day? You must read that first.

      And Edna is one of my favorite poets. All her stuff just really, really speaks to me. She was a really cool lady.

  6. K.

    Lovely review, Kate. Very meditative. I really liked JOD. Not quite her other series but still good.

    Is it weird that I think its good when a character disappoints? I just think there’s so much to go, so much room for growth and therein lies true reward when a character pulls through.

    Anyway, I’m somewhere between Allyson and Willem so I can’t be too partial to either team. Lets hope Willem’s journey ends up satisfying me as much as it did you.

    • Kate Bond

      I like when characters disappoint because it feels real. The things that bothered me about the beginning of the novel, Willem-wise, is actually an unreliable narrator issue, so I was fine with it by the end.

      I’m interested in hearing what you think about the ending, K. So many people hated it…

  7. Mary @ BookSwarm

    I have to say, I love how you did this review. Sometimes, books just don’t click immediately and you need to step away. Then when you come back to it, it works. I loved Just One Day so I’m definitely going to read this one, though I’m just not sure about Willem…and I want to see how I’m going to react!

    • Kate Bond

      Yeah, Willem isn’t is as much fun as a first person narrator, but he’s pretty great in his own right. I think you’ll come around to his side by the end.

  8. Carina Olsen

    Ah, great review :) I have not yet read book one, and I’m just sure I’m going to. They sounds awesome, but I’m worried about the heartbreak, cause if the long time apart :\ Anyway. I’m sorry you felt like Willem’s reason weren’t done well enough :( that is sad. But I’m glad you gave it another chance and ended up enjoying the book, still :)

    • Kate Bond

      Oh, my issues with the beginning were cleared up by the end, but I won’t spoil that discovery for you.

      Book one is FANTASTIC. So angsty.

  9. Wendy Darling

    Uh oh, this makes me a little nervous about reading this book! But I will, of course, because c’mon, it’s Gayle Forman. I really liked JOD, but I still enjoyed If I Stay more, so…going into this with tempered expectations. I’m wildly curious about this ending now, though.

    • Kate Bond

      Well…Willem is no Adam, that’s for sure, and this book lacks the emotional intensity–not the depth, but the intensity–of JOD and the If I Stay series.

  10. Rachel

    I had big issues with Willem in the first book, also, I wasn’t pleased to find that this didn’t continue their story from where we left off with Allyson, instead it’s a side by side novel. I enjoyed Just One Day but I loved Forman’s other work more, so I doubt I’ll pick this up anytime soon. I’m happy you enjoyed it, Kate. It did seem like you had issues with it as well, though. Lovely review! :)

    • Kate Bond

      Rachel, I think a lot of people have been bothered by the time period covered in this novel. I liked that aspect of it, but I think I may be in the minority.

  11. Lexxie Lin

    Kate, I didn’t read your whole review, because I don’t want to be spoiled in any way at all. But I had to comment anyway, because it made me happy to see the four stars. Just One Year is one of the books I look forward to the most for 2013, and I really, really hope I’ll love it, too :)

    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

  12. Lisa Farhana

    Wow, Kate. This is probably the most heartfelt review I’ve ever read. I like how it’s personal to you.

    As for me, I love JOD too much so there’s a part of me that’s afraid JOY won’t be as good as what I’ve been building up in my head.

    But still, I’m looking forward to reading it. I need that closure, haha.

    • Kate Bond

      Thank you, Lisa.

      And…all I can say is that you should TRY not to head into this book with too many expectations. Willem’s journey is pretty different from Allyson’s, as is his voice as a narrator, and I think you’ll really like it if you can rewind your brain to that morning in Paris and not stress about what happens at the end. And do not, under any circumstances, read the last chapter first.

      Also, have you copy of JOD with you when you’re reading JOY! There are some fun near-misses with Willem and Allyson, and I really enjoyed flipping to the corresponding chapters in JOD to see how close they came to each other.

  13. Liviania

    I’ve been looking forward to this one. I doubt I’ll feel that sense of betrayal, though, because I didn’t really get Willem in JOD.

  14. bookittyblog

    I’m reading a book with a main character that doesn’t show a lot of emotion towards people or pretty much anything. So I understand where you are coming from. I haven’t read Just One Day yet but I’m planing to. This review makes me want to read it even more.

    • Kate Bond

      Yeah, I think a big part of the problem with Willem’s being so chilly is that the story is told first person, from his perspective, and he just can’t hold a candle to Allyson in most respects. I think that if you like this sort of character you will LOVE Willem. I sure do.

    • Kate Bond

      I hear ya. I think the ending is responsible for most of the negative reviews, Savannah. I really liked the ending, because I think it’s clear what will happen next, but I love Allyson and would have liked to see a bit more of her here.

  15. Melanie

    Eek! I can’t wait for this one–I have been dying to know Willem’s story. I’ve seen some not so promising reviews but I’m quite still certain I’ll enjoy this. I mean it Gayle Forman.

    Wonderful review, Kate! <33

    • Kate Bond

      Thank, Mel!

      I think the negative reviews are floating around for a couple of reasons: First, this book covers the same year as Just One Day, and most people really wanted to find out what happened AFTER Allyson completed her quest; and second, Willem is a bit of a cold fish and as such not as easy a character to empathize with for as long a time as Allyson. I think people would love this book if it came before the other one in the series.

  16. Traci @ The Reading Geek

    Fantastic review! Just One Day is easily one of my top favorite books and I have been waiting anxiously for Just One Year. I’m a bit hesitant about reading it because it is in Willem’s pov. I’m really looking forward to seeing what If I Stay character makes an appearance now though!

    • Kate Bond

      The If I Stay character doesn’t show up, but there is an off-hand remark about…the person…that let’s you know how their life has progressed.

      Willem’s POV is not as exciting as Allyson’s, and because of that I almost wish that his book had come first, but man is the end ever satisfying.

  17. Danielle

    “And while I loved Allyson (maybe because I loved her), I felt deeply distrustful of Willem.”

    YES! This is why I have ‘Just One Year’ waiting for me to read, but I’m hesitant. I’m an Allyson, and I’m very much resenting Willem right now, I don’t know if I can be a kind reader to him.

    Also, one friend and Kirkus have fore-warned me that this is a book of self-discovery, not necessarily romance and that worries me, because if Willem can make it up to many in any way it’ll be by loving Allyson right.

    Argh! Wonderful, wonderful review and clearly I have to pucker up and just dive into this one .

    • Kate Bond

      YES, Danielle, Willems journey is the reverse of Allison’s. He has to learn to stop lying to himself and really grow up and try at things that might scare him initially–and they are all things that come very, very naturally to Allyson–so it is a much quieter book. And he sleeps around a bit in it, FYI.

      I love Willem, and I think you will too, ultimately (he’s had a pretty tough life), but he really has to grow up and become the type of man we would want Allyson to be with–because the person he is at the beginning of the novel is NOT good enough for her. Not by a long stretch.

  18. Amber

    I absolutely loved Forman’s If I Stay novels, so I can only imagine how much I will enjoy Just One Day. Her writing style is so poetic.

    • Kate Bond

      Just One Day is…Ugh. I cannot even begin to tell you how lovely I found it to be. I just adored it. Just One Day and Where She Went are my favorites of her novels.

  19. Keertana

    I really love this review, only because you really went through what did and did not work for you in such a personal way. LOVE the poem you shared! For me, I really connected with Willem’s emotional detachment, but was also able to form connections to those he met on my own, which enriched the reading experience. And though I did struggle with some of Willem’s decisions, I eventually came to really understand where they came from. Great review, Kate, and welcome to The Midnight Garden!(:

    • Kate Bond

      Well, crud. I replied to you, but my spoiler tag didn’t work, so I had to delete the comment.

      I basically said that…um…that I had not taken into account the possibility of Willem’s being an unreliable narrator in the beginning. And that I think if the things that came out later (in conversation with Kate, whom I loved) and been admitted to the reader sooner, there may have been more tension during his quest. Because he did a dumb thing.

      Or maybe admitting that would have made him too unlikeable for most readers. I don’t know.

      And thank you!