Sometimes a book just clicks with you. The voice of the writer draws you in. You get the characters. You laugh and cry and cringe along with them. The entire world view of the author aligns with yours. I LOVE books like this. The bummer is that it's a rare experience to find one. The writer part of me usually doesn't let it happen. I analyze the experience as I'm going through it. Why'd she start with a prologue? What made the main character say that when the author just told us he was a different kind of person? It's annoying, to put it mildly. Still, as a reader I'm always hoping for that love whenever I flip back the first page of a new book.
So it just happened and now I want to shout out my joy. The book is Gayle Forman's Just One Day (pub date: Jan., 2013). I love Gayle Forman. Her two previous books If I Stay and Where She Went are among my favorites. She's edited by the amazing Julie Strauss-Gable at Dutton. Side note: Julie Strauss-Gable is my dream editor. If you're looking for good, absorbing books for your teens (or for you) start with any book on her list. (And what a list it is. John Green. Ally Condie. Stephanie Perkins. Nova Ren Suma. These people are the stars of YA literature.)
Let me start with a brief summary. I don't want to give too much away and one criticism I have of the book is that the blurb on the back reveals a little too much. On the surface it's a love story. Obedient, sweet, good girl Allyson is on one of those see every country in Europe in a few weeks kind of trip and she's not having a good time. Her best friend from forever is bugging her. The endless touristy sites are boring. She's off to college in the fall and she just wants to get on with it. Then--she meets Willem, a handsome Dutch actor whose tooling around in England with a rogue Shakespeare company. The two spend an amazing day together that basically changes the course of Allyson's life. I'm not saying anything more about the plot.
Here's the thing about plot: there's only so many plots when you come down to it. Girl meets boy/girl loses boy is one. Then you have your character takes a journey story line. And your character experiences a death plot. I was talking about this the other day with a friend--telling her about a great book I read (shout out to Jennifer Castle here) The Beginning of After about a girl who loses her family in a car accident. I said to my friend: it's sort of a cliche' how many car accidents there are in teen books. Then I laughed. Because MY YA book starts off with a car accident.
So what is it about car accidents? Well, I think it's just a dramatic way to get your story going, push your character into a dark place she's got to figure out how to crawl out of. What's really going on in these books is the character is discovering who he or she really is. It's the classic Coming of Age theme. Death tends to make you think about that kind of thing. Also, Love.
Back to Just One Day. Willem is the catalyst for Allyson's journey--meeting him forces her to question the sleepy obedient good girl way she's been living her life and wonder if there's another path. There's lots of traveling in this book, both actual traveling (that will make YOU want to travel, I promise) and metaphorical traveling--a true mental and emotional journey for this girl, who could be every girl on the cusp of becoming a woman--a person.
Which means learning what you want to do with your own life, what you love and what you hate (is this best friend truly your best friend? Do you really want to study Chemistry? How do you want to cut your freaking hair?) and discovering that you might have more control over these decisions than you realized. Because we are talking teens here, there's an interesting and kind of heartbreaking subplot about throwing off parental expectations too. I've written about this before--how often in YA books you have either non-existent parents or neglectful/abusive ones. It's disturbing. But the vehicle is a symbolic way to highlight this necessary growth process. If you ever want to be the hero in your own life, inevitably, you've got to shuck off the parents and strike out on your own. I love how Gayle Forman handles Allyson's helicoptery parents. They are the antagonists (particularly the mom) but they are not villains. They're complex, flawed, well-meaning people. (Or maybe this was just MY reading, because I've got helicoptery mom tendencies in me!)
All of the characters in this book are complex and real. The best friend who keeps changing her hair style and clothes so that Allyson hardly knows what the girl will look like each time she sees her. The new best friend, a cool African American guy who's brilliant and funny and wise to the ways people wear different masks depending on who they're dealing with. And of course, the GUY. Mysterious and beautiful Willem--the boy every girl yearns for--the one who gets our jokes and says we're pretty and who when he touches us makes us feel an electric current running straight to our hearts.
Who cares about the boy though?
Here's the great thing about this book. It's Allyson's story. It's potentially every girl's story. Could something that happens on just one day change the entire course of a person's life?
Buy this book for your daughters, people. And then you read it too.