A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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?
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