Book Review #24: Just One Year

“Just One Year” by Gayle Forman

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This was one of my most anticipated sequels of 2013, and it only moved up the ranks after I devoured “Just One Day” in, well, just one day. Though this pair of novels didn’t quite captivate me in the way that “If I Stay” and “Where She Went” managed to, they didn’t disappoint either.

“Just One Year” picks up where Allyson and Willem’s paths diverge, after their magical day in Paris. The rest of the novel focuses less on Willem’s attempts to find Allyson and more on his attempt to piece his life back together and figure out what–if any–role Allyson played, or could play in it.

One of the things I loved about “Just One Year” was watching Willem’s character develop, until he moved from mesmerizing foreigner, to troubled, commitment-phobe wanderer with who feels the most lost among his splintered family and friends. His journey of stumbling and falling and screwing up and picking himself up nicely mirrored Allyson’s without feeling like imitation or repetition.

The place descriptions were gorgeous as always, and I enjoyed Forman’s portraits of cultures that were so different than the ones experienced by the characters in book one. I never much felt like I got to know Mexico or India in the way that I became acquainted with Amsterdam later in the story, but that felt right. Willem wasn’t attempting to familiarize himself with those places either, and to see a bunch of intimate knowledge from him would’ve felt disingenuous.

Unlike Allyson of “Just One Day,” Willem doesn’t do much actual reciprocal searching. I enjoyed this and I didn’t. Although it made sense for Allyson’s character arc to involve finding Willem AND herself, Willem’s was much more effective when he was searching more for a place–or a sense of place–to call his own. The way his sense of place tied back to his day with Allyson cemented for me how little he’d managed to forget her in their time apart. I would’ve loved to see more “Serendipity” type near misses and missed chances, but I understand how they might not have worked for this story.

My biggest gripe about the novel was how long it took me to remember Willem’s back story and get to know him through that particular lens. His family history, his heritage and past life weren’t painted with much detail in “Just One Day,” and I spent the better first half of this novel trying to remind myself, or piece together, what had happened to give him such a case of wanderlust. The importance those aspects of Willem’s life played in “Just One Year” made me wish I’d had more information about them going into the story.

I’d highly recommend this book, this series really. These companion novels were meant to be two sides of similar but divergent stories, and I almost think they’d be most enjoyable read immediately back to back. Take some time to savor the ending if you do. I’ve heard some complaints about it, but I think Forman ended the story in the most perfect place possible.

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