Just One Day

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Just One Day Book Poster Image
Mature romance explores love, travel, and self-discovery.

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 4 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn a whole lot of trivia about traveling through Europe, particularly in England and Paris. Willem is from the Netherlands and explains various aspects of Dutch culture to Allyson, including historical tidbits about Holland, typical foods, and the way Dutch people tend to know several languages, their way around boats, and how to ride a bicycle with someone else on it. William Shakespeare's plays, especially Hamlet and Twelfth Night, are heavily referenced.

Positive Messages

There are many coming-of-age lessons in the story, from the idea that you should discover who you are not who others want you to be to the reverence for following those little detours in life that can lead you somewhere unforgettable. Relishing each moment and not letting time be your guide is also a recurring theme in the book, as is the idea that feeling certain is not the same thing as knowing the truth -- or that being in love is different than falling in love. Allyson also discusses her belief that it's our invisible scars that take the longest to heal and fade.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Allyson is a fascinating character, because she's done everything right for the wrong reasons, and then makes some questionable decisions that lead to a great transformation. It might be iffy for younger girls to consider Allyson's impetuous (some might say reckless) decision to travel alone with Willem something to emulate. At least Allyson does acknowledge the potential risks she's taking. Dee teaches Allyson that she needs to confront her feelings not hide from them.


During their day in Paris, Allyson and Willem encounter a group of skinheads who terrorize two young Muslim women; Willem intervenes, and Allyson throws a heavy book at one of their faces. The man bleeds and the two of them proceed to run away from the group. As they're being pursued, Allyson is hit with a glass bottle and also starts to bleed.


Although there's only one actual sex scene in the book, the entire story hums with the sexual and emotional chemistry between Allyson (Lulu) and Willem. Very early in their interactions it's clear to the reader that they'll end up making love, so by the time they do, it's in no way a surprise. Allyson thinks about him sexually and possessively and jealously throughout the story. She wants "all of him" and frequently thinks about the "electricity" between them and about whether he's had (or would have) sex with various women he mentions or meets. Allyson and Willem have sex after one intense day together, and the scene is fairly steamy (the author talks about how they touch, tease, kiss, lick each other all over -- twice). But it should be noted that Allyson is 18 and Willem is 20, and neither of them is a virgin, so they are older and more mature than many characters featured in YA books.


Standard language for comparable YA books: the occasional "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," "asshole," "damn," "pissed off," "screw around," and a couple of Dutch swear words like "Godverdomme" (goddammit).


Coke products are mentioned as are a couple of designer and cosmetic brands, but none of it is consumerist or overdone.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Allyson and Willem drink red wine, but technically it's legal in Europe for 18- and 20-year-olds to drink. Other adults and college-age people drink wine, beer, vodka, etc., but not too regularly. One character smokes cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Just One Day is a mature young adult romance about an 18-year-old high-school graduate's 24-hour relationship with a 20-year old actor she meets abroad. Like Forman's novel Where She Went and the film Before Sunrise, the central love story takes place in one long day and features a young couple's overwhelming chemistry, longing, and eventual lovemaking.  In addition to the one love scene, the book includes some drinking (but in Europe the characters are of age), occasional strong language ("f--k," "s--t," "bitch," etc.), and one bout of violence (the couple stops skinheads from terrorizing two Muslim young women). While the romance can be steamy, the book is really about connection, identity, and finding your way in the world, not the one prescribed by other people. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byCSM Screen name... April 29, 2015

One of the Best Romance Novels Ever!!

This Book is yet another amazing novel by Gayle Forman. This book has has some steamy Sex scenes and kissing. There is some innuendo and Sexual comments like lu... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byKaralee44 September 19, 2016

Just One Day is a good book for the right ages

I came across this book, and having read some of Gayle Forman's other works, decided to give it a go. I was although surprised to find that this book was m... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byKuriosityKilledKat March 11, 2016

Kids 14+ or more mature kids.

This is a great book and has taught me a lot about not being afraid to find myself and be myself, do what I want etc., but could give younger or less mature kid... Continue reading

What's the story?

Allyson is the ultimate good girl, but toward the end of a surprisingly boring post-graduation tour of Europe, she makes an impulsive decision to skip the Royal Shakespeare Theatre's Hamlet for a street production of Twelfth Night featuring a striking Dutch actor. The next day, Allyson bumps into the handsome Dutchman, Willem, on a train ride to London, and they strike up a flirtatious banter in which he dubs her Lulu. After their two-hour trip, Willem offers to show \"Lulu\" around Paris \"for JUST ONE DAY,\" and to her best friend's shock, she agrees. During their intimate day (and night) in Paris together, Allyson lets go of her inhibitions and enjoys taking risks, getting lost in the sights and sounds of a new place, and most of all, falling for this deep and enigmatic guy. But the next morning, Willem is inexplicably gone. Distraught and depressed, Allyson spends the entire following year coming to terms with how whirlwind romance changed the course of her life.

Is it any good?

Author Gayle Forman Forman has created in Allyson's story the kind of intense 24-hour romance that quickens pulses. Forman has already impressed readers with a moving novel about the difference a day makes, so it's no surprise she's taken the idea and inserted strangers instead of estranged exes as she did in Where She Went. This is a truly transformative coming-of-age tale that will inspire young women to take the Shakespearean line "to thine own self be true" to heart. By allowing Willem to rename her Lulu (he never learns her real name that night), Allyson starts off acting like a more adventurous spirit but slowly comes to realize she is capable of so much more than meeting her parents' straight-A, pre-med, Ivy League expectations.

The "Just One Day" part of the book provides that heady feeling of falling madly and deeply for Willem, who is both edgy and safe, worldly and idealistic, mysterious and open. Every "good girl" secretly wonders what it's like to surrender to the unknown, and Forman touchingly conveys how even the smallest of moments is actually a monumental step in Allyson's one-day metamorphosis. Once the story shifts to the "Just One Year" section, Forman delves into Allyson's depression, confusion, and alienation with an authenticity that's heartbreaking. Various supporting characters add humor and depth -- like Allyson's best college friend Dee, who as a gay, black scholarship kid knows exactly what it means to play different parts for different people. Best of all, the writing never fails to express the excitement of discovering parts of yourself that you never thought existed. By the final line, you won't be able to wait to read the companion book, Just One Year, which is told from Willem's point of view.


Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the idea that a single day or love at first sight can be so momentous. What other books and movies help perpetuate this popular theme? 

  • How is Shakespeare referenced in the book? What Shakespearean elements do the characters and the plot exhibit? 

  • Why was it so risky for Allyson to take a chance on a stranger? Why or why not would you make the same decision?

Book details

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