Genre: Contemporary YA
When sheltered American good girl Allyson "LuLu" Healey first meets laid-back Dutch actor Willem De Ruiter at an underground performance of Twelfth Night in England, there’s an undeniable spark. After just one day together, that spark bursts into a flame, or so it seems to Allyson, until the following morning, when she wakes up after a whirlwind day in Paris to discover that Willem has left. Over the next year, Allyson embarks on a journey to come to terms with the narrow confines of her life, and through Shakespeare, travel, and a quest for her almost-true-love, to break free of those confines.
I really enjoyed this! I thought that Allyson was a really well constructed character - she's flawed but always sympathetic and her ~growing pains~ (I hate that expression!) really rang true to me. Some of the writing was lovely and certain sentiments really moved me. I particularly like this bit towards the beginning:
I clap so that I can hold on to this feeling. I clap because I know what will happen when I stop. It's the same thing that happens when I turn off a really good movie - one that I've lost myself to - which is that I'll be thrown back to my own reality and something hollow will settle over my chest. Sometimes, I'll watch a movie all over again just to recapture that feeling of being inside something real.I'm a real sucker for literature that deals with the experience of culture and the physicality of emotion!
There's nothing wrong with the book at all - though chasing a boy you've known for one day across Europe may seem far-fetched it's not too far from Felicity territory - but when I was reading this I couldn't shake the feeling that I wanted it to be different somehow. In the first half I really wanted it to be a Before Sunrise for young people! I wanted more detail about the day Allyson and Willem had together and then I wanted Allyson to go home and carry on with her life. I didn't need it to be a big epic love journey - I'd have been happy for it to be a standalone character study about a shy/reserved girl who makes a spontaneous decision which doesn't ~change her life~ in any material sense but helps her come to terms with who she is and what she wants. I appreciate the appeal of Just One Year the Willem POV sequel but honestly, I'm only really interested in Willem as a feature in Allyson's narrative! After that, I really wished that the 'college can be crappy' arc had been developed more - college/university is an area which has often been neglected by literature and I'm really hoping that the New Adult genre does more with it. Not having a great time at college is not an unusual experience and I think that more could have been made of the expectations vs. reality problem as well as the moving away from home/social anxiety issues rather than it all seeming to hang upon Willem.
I liked this a lot but I wanted the romance to be a catalyst for Allyson's personal growth rather than its end point! I'll be really interested to see which direction Gayle Forman takes things in Just One Year.