Just One Day, by Gayle Forman
Between the popularity of The Fault in Our Stars and the likely popularity of Just One Day, I can easily imagine an uptick in people visiting Amsterdam to actually explore it, rather than visiting mainly to take advantage of the drug laws. But, as usual, I'm getting ahead of myself.
At the tail end of Allyson Healey's high school graduation present—a trip to and through Europe—she does something that's completely out of character: she breaks the rules. She skips out of the RSC production of Hamlet that her tour group is supposed to attend and goes to a performance of Twelfth Night by a roving Shakespearean troupe called Guerrilla Will.
(The concept behind Guerrilla Will, btdubs, is AWESOME AND EXCITING. Ditto the Shakespeare Out Loud class that Allyson takes in college. And mega-kudos to Forman for supporting the idea—or, rather, having her characters support the idea—that Shakespeare should be seen and heard, for focusing on the bananapants storylines of the plays and on the depth of emotion that runs through them, rather than the more exclusionary SHAKESPEARE = CLASSIC LITERATURE = GOOD = IF YOU DON'T SIT AROUND READING IT IN YOUR SPARE TIME, YOU ARE A CAVEMAN mindset.
ANYWAY. BACK TO THE SYNOPSIS.)
So, at said performance, she has A MOMENT with the actor playing Sebastian, and then, the next day, runs into him on the train to London. Their MOMENT continues, and rather than doing what she, Reliable Allyson, is expected to do—stay in London until her flight back to the States—she impulsively jaunts off to Paris with a guy she barely knows.
And then, after a lovely day full of sparks flying and a lovely night full of acting on said sparks, Allyson wakes up... alone.
Just One Day is about playing roles and choosing personas and what makes us us; about figuring out who we are; and about realizing that while we are different people depending on the situation/audience, we are also all of those people at the same time. All four of the major characters—Allyson, Willem, Allyson's childhood best friend Melanie, and Allyson's college friend Dee—are grappling with those coming-of-age/figuring-out-who-you-are issues, and they all became so real that I'd love to read a full-length novel about any of the other three. (Happily, I'm going to get at least 1/3 of my wish, because the second half of the duology focuses on Willem.)
Speaking of Willem: at first, he comes off as a bit of a Dutch Manic Pixie Dream Boy. But our view of him is also completely filtered through Allyson's perception of him, and she isn't exactly objective. Also, as she gets to know him—while she doesn't get to know much about him, that's not necessarily the same as getting to know who he is—he becomes more three-dimensional. Also also, she herself is playing a role that day: the role of a girl who is comfortable with improvisation, with taking risks, with acting without weighing each possible outcome.
I loved this book. Much of it is painful—first love, first heartbreak, the slow death rattle of a best-friendship, the high expectations of an overly-involved parent, the difficulty of opening up to people, being lost literally and metaphorically and emotionally—but it's painful in a comforting way. Even at Allyson's lowest moments, I never doubted that she'd not only come through it all, but that she'd come through it all far stronger than before. And she did.