Just One Year

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Just One Year Book Poster Image
Powerful, brooding tale of confused guy from Just One Day.

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age 14+
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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Just One Year shows the different cultures Willem experiences in his travels, from his home in the Netherlands to destinations including Paris, Israel, and India. There's some discussion of the Holocaust. As in Just One Day, William Shakespeare's plays, particularly Twelfth Night, appear in several references, as does the craft of acting.

Positive Messages

Willem's story stresses the pitfalls of making assumptions about people, both the ones you're closest to and the ones you want to know better. Travel can be a catalyst for change and self-awareness but also an easy way to avoid your "real life"; Just One Year is about confronting the issues in your life, however uncomfortable or painful. The story emphasizes the value of family and celebrates the random moment that connects you to the person you want to be with for the rest of your life.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Intelligent, well traveled, and talented, Willem is not so much a role model as a man dealing with issues: family dynamics, loneliness, rootlessness. His self-sacrificing mother, Yael, runs a health clinic in India. More caring than her son gives her credit for, she gives Willem space but also keeps tabs on his well-being. Willem's good friends all look out for him, too, even when he thinks he's just fine on his own.


Willem suffers from temporary amnesia and other serious injuries as the result of an attack on the street.


Willem has sex with different women in his travels and recalls past sexual encounters with others. The story refers to oral sex, one-night stands, and Willem's night with Lulu but gives no explicit detail.


Strong language includes "f--k," "a--hole," "s--t," "bitch," and a few Spanish/Dutch/French curse words ("culero" and "merde").


Mentions of Coke and a few car companies.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Of legal drinking age in Europe, Willem consumes alcohol at bars and dinners and gets drunk at least once. He and several other characters smoke cigarettes, as is more common in Europe than in the United States. Friends smoke marijuana together.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Just One Year, the companion novel to author Gayle Forman's romantic young-adult novel Just One Day, covers the same time period as the first book but from the perspective of Willem, Allyson's enigmatic Dutch love interest. Reflecting Willem's age (20) and edgier lifestyle, Just One Year has more violence and sex than Just One Day: Willem suffers a vicious attack that leaves him unconscious; more sexually experienced than Allyson, he often recalls encounters with past lovers. Characters drink and smoke, including hash/pot (legal in the Netherlands). As in Just One Day, there's plenty of strong language ("f--k," "s--t," "bitch").

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Teen, 14 years old Written byEvelyn_cynthia March 30, 2019

What's the story?

JUST ONE YEAR revisits roughly the same time period of Just One Day, starting from the crucial morning when Willem does not return to Lulu after their life-changing, 24-hour adventure in Paris together. Injured, hospitalized, and temporarily without short-term memory, Willem can't recall where he was or who he was with until it's too late and a devastated Lulu (Allyson) has already fled back to London. Willem reluctantly returns home to the Netherlands for family business. Forced to confront his issues with his grief, his distant mother, and his out-of-the-loop friends, he can't forget that fateful day with Lulu, a girl unlike all the others he'd connected with in his years of escape-driven travel.

Is it any good?

Readers who can get past expecting another Where She Went will find a lovingly crafted account of the way some relationships stick with you forever and of how a guy becomes a man.

For the second time, Gayle Forman revisits a romance from the guy's perspective. In Where She Went, Adam knew nearly everything about Mia, the love of his life who almost died and then enigmatically broke up with him. Here, Willem doesn't even know Lulu's real name and only remembers one full day of intense connection. Hence Just One Year becomes less a story of reunion than of Willem's journey of self-discovery as he tries to understand why he travels so much and why he can't truly commit to any interested women.

Just One Day reveals that Willem and Allyson will meet again, but Forman here focuses less on the romantic reunion than on the journey back home, however defined: a place, a person, or the realization that there are people who love you. It's a powerful story but more brooding and resentful than Forman's previous work. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether this book is "young adult" or that new genre of books about college-age protagonists, "new adult." Does the age of the main character have any bearing on who should read the book?

  • How are Shakespeare's works important in Just One Year? Do you see any Shakespearean elements in the characters and the plot?

  • How is Allyson's relationship with her parents (in Just One Day) different from Willem's with his?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love travel and romance

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