There always seems to be a sense of trepidation when you are about to read a favourite author’s new book. There is, of course, excitement, but in the back of your mind there is that niggling fear that it may not be as good as the previous one, or even worse… different!
I fell beneath Gayle Forman’s spell when voraciously reading the story of Mia and Adam in If I Stay (2009) and Where She Went (2011). Forman constructs characters that crawl out from the page and into your chest cavity, where they play havoc. Your heart accelerates or plummets with a line of dialogue, a small gesture, or the realisation that what comes next isn’t on your list of predictions.
I am pleased to say all this is true of her new novel, Just One Day (to be released in Australia on 16th January). Some might be saddened that the story of Mia and Adam has concluded but I was racing to know Allyson in all her emotionally restrained glory.
We meet Allyson on the last day of her very structured, parent-approved tour of Europe. What is meant to be a celebration of the end of high school and the start of a new era (college) is soul sucking and uneventful… until she spots Willem. What results is the first impetuous act of Allyson’s life and the broadening of her horizons as she falls in love with Paris, and Willem. The beauty of this dynamic is that there are many signposts that Willem might not be the gleaming light that Allyson wants him to be. But Forman vividly creates a world, a twirling mass of romance, beauty and lust, which makes her protagonist and the reader fall deeply.
It makes the thump to earth real. The early-on revelation that Willem has deserted Allyson, and the readers, is made all the more painful.
At first Just One Day comes across as the simple tale of girl meets boy but it’s what occurs after boy leaves girl that lifts Forman’s deft touch to a new level. Allyson plateaus after the Paris debacle; she numbs herself at college failing to make connections with others and her classes. She is heartbroken and checked out.
Just One Day could be all about Willem but its strength is how this boy is used as a way for Allyson to find her way without him. There is relief in her final movement from inertia to living, her decision to break away from her suffocating mother, make her own life choices and grapple with the fissure that has developed between her and her childhood best friend. These story points ring entirely true – that shift that occurs after school is over and people begin to drift. Sometimes sharing a past isn’t enough to keep the ties that bind tight.
Just One Day is a character rich exploration of that time in life when you need to re-examine who you are. It’s about shifting focus and redefining what you want and how you want to get it. It’s about clarity, and love, and heartbreak, and angst. It’s the reason I love reading Gayle Forman’s world.
Gayle Forman will be a guest at the 2013 Reading Matters conference.