Thursday, October 24, 2013

Review: Just One Year

Just One Year by Gayle Forman

Available Now

Reviewed By: Honorary Sis Sarah P.

The Sisters Say: Like its main character, the book takes awhile to find itself.

Just One Day. Just One Year. Just One Read.

Before you find out how their story ends, remember how it began....

When he opens his eyes, Willem doesn’t know where in the world he is—Prague or Dubrovnik or back in Amsterdam. All he knows is that he is once again alone, and that he needs to find a girl named Lulu. They shared one magical day in Paris, and something about that day—that girl—makes Willem wonder if they aren’t fated to be together. He travels all over the world, from Mexico to India, hoping to reconnect with her. But as months go by and Lulu remains elusive, Willem starts to question if the hand of fate is as strong as he’d thought...

The romantic, emotional companion to Just One Day, this is a story of the choices we make and the accidents that happen—and the happiness we can find when the two intersect.

This is the second time that skilled author Gayle Forman has followed up a winning female perspective with a sequel from the boy's point of view. Fans of the bestselling If I Stay found a worthy pairing in Where She Went. In fact, Forman has said in an interview that she hadn't originally intended to give If I Stay a sequel. But then she realized she'd left her characters in a very difficult place, and the need to follow up propelled Where She Went.

The same could be argued for Just One Day. That book, told in "Lulu's" perspective, sends the female narrator on a journey to discover why her single perfect day with Willem has done such a number on her confidence and direction. As she searches for him, she's really searching for herself. The novel is quite a ride.


The trouble with Just One Year is that Just One Day is its spoiler! Instead of picking up at the end of book #1, Forman traces Willem's year in much the same way--from the moment he loses Lulu until the same August day on which the first book ends. In other words, the narrative tension which pulls Just One Day along--the enduring question of whether or not she can find Willem again--is missing in book #2. Because the reader already knows the result.

Along the way, there is much to admire. Forman does good work with Willem's back story, weaving in his analysis of fate, accidents and happiness. Willem has issues to work through, including grief, his promiscuity, his anger at his mother. Those points are done up in the author's seamless writing.

But in the book's middle section, it isn't enough. Willem travels great distances to try to find his girl. Yet all those peregrinations in Mexico are likely to make the reader (or at least this reader) beat her forehead against the $17.99 hardback, as the near misses pile up. The point is supposed to be that Willem isn't ready to find Lulu at New Years. But the reader doesn't care enough, because she already knows that he won't.

So it isn't surprising that the book finally gels after Willem stops looking for Lulu. Reconnecting with his uncle Daniel and auditioning for a new play are dramas which carry their own tensions. And the themes from Shakespeare's As You Like It spice up Willem's interior monologue. The story pushes along in a satisfying way until the denouement on the last page, which mirrors the last page of Just One Day.

Whether or not there's enough resolution on that final page will vary from reader to reader. I know I was expecting more, even if Willem's final decision is quite tender. Romantics, fear not.