Wednesday Friday Reads: "Just One Day" and "Just One Year" by Gayle Forman

Friday Reads on a Wednesday! This past Friday (and the start of this week!) got away from me, so here we are. Last week I raced through Gayle Forman's newest YA duet, Just One Day and Just One Year. The former came out in January, while the latter came out...last week. I've had Just One Day sitting on my shelf for a while, and when we got close to the release of the companion book, I figured I might as well wait to read them both in succession! And I am so glad I did, given that I finished Just One Day last Wednesday and immediately ran to Barnes & Noble to pick up Just One Year. I couldn't wait even a day to start it!

Just One Day and Year

So what are these books about? They both tell the story of a year in the life of Allyson, a straight-laced American who has just graduated from high school, and Willem, the Dutch actor/wanderer she meets on the European tour that was her parents' graduation present to her. In Just One Day, Allyson and Willem spend a whirlwind day together in Paris—a day that is completely unexpected and life-changing for Allyson, normally a rule-follower who is averse to adventure until it runs her over. Willem is more used to adventure, but the day is special to him for other reasons that aren't revealed until Just One Year. The catch: when that magical day is over, Allyson finds herself alone in Paris. Willem has vanished. She'll spend the next year recovering from the abandonment, and then (mild spoiler?) searching for him. Unfortunately, she doesn't know his last name or anything about him; even worse, he only knows her by a nickname he gave her: Lulu.

Just One Day is told from Allyson's point of view, and Just One Year is told from Willem's. (It's a device Forman has used before, in her previous book duet: If I Stay and Where She Went.) With these two books, it was great to experience Allyson's wonder, her confusion, her pain, and her ultimate growth, and then to see Willem's journey in turn. You see first how he affected her, and then the impact she had on him. And the great thing is, it's not just about the love story—though that's certainly reason enough to pick up the books. (It's pretty swoony!) Allyson and Willem both have lives of their own, issues to face, and growth to do as individuals. Their meeting, powerful as it is, is just the catalyst for what's next.

I know I'm being a little vague (though again, I hope I haven't already spoiled too much!), but part of the joy of these books is experiencing them as they unfold. That said, I have to talk about the settings, and the travel, in these books!

In college, I was lucky to get to spend a semester in London. That semester immediately followed a summer internship in NYC, so I was used to making my way around a big city and beyond excited to try a different country. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life—living in central London, meeting fellow students from across the globe, hopping on the train on a whim to visit Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford, Rochester, even Paris and Amsterdam... the list goes on. Of course, I was operating on a student's budget in one of the world's most expensive cities, so I wasn't able to travel nearly as much as I would have liked. When I say I went to Paris, I mean I was there for...two one-day visits on two separate occasions. Amsterdam was a two-day visit, shared with The Hague. But still—I hopped on a train, and I was there.

I can't wait to go back to London, to Paris, to Amsterdam. I know there is so much more to see. And I know it won't be the same a decade later, now that I'm a jaded New Yorker (ha!) and married, no longer a student on a budget, but I can't wait to recapture the magic of being in those cities. I can't wait to share that magic with my husband. 

One thing I loved about Just One Day and Just One Year is that the characters often travel off the beaten path. The closest I've come in recent years is when my husband and I went to Italy, on our honeymoon. We visited Rome, Siena, Florence, and Venice, and of course we hit all of the tourist destinations—but by the time we reached Venice, we were tired of being tourists. In Venice, we wandered. We got rid of the map. We followed tiny alleyways that emerged onto main canals. We walked in circles. And it was amazing. In Just One Day, Allyson and Willem explore Paris by picking a Metro station at random and seeing what's there. That reminded me of how we experienced Venice. On foot, and without making too many plans.

Anyway. If you love romance, and realistic characters dealing with realistic issues, pick up these books. If you love travel, or if you dream of traveling, pick up these books. :)