Just One Year
Gayle Forman follows up JUST ONE DAY with JUST ONE YEAR, which wraps up the mysteries of the first novel while further exploring Willem's story.
Gayle Forman tends to buck the trilogy trend in her writing --- her most famous novels are the pair IF I STAY and WHERE SHE WENT. Now she follows up her novel JUST ONE DAY, published earlier this year, with JUST ONE YEAR.
"JUST ONE YEAR lacks the breathless romanticism of its predecessor, but it's no less worthwhile for that --- readers will enjoy the chance to finally come to know the Willem who was more or less a mystery before."
JUST ONE DAY followed college-bound Allyson as she cast off her responsible, conservative reputation to follow an attractive Dutch actor named Willem (who nicknamed her Lulu) to Paris for one memorable day. But Willem disappeared as suddenly as he appeared, leaving Allyson to wonder what happened to him --- and to spend the better part of a year determined to find him.
JUST ONE YEAR picks up right where we last saw Willem, after he leaves Allyson suddenly. He wakes up in a hospital, having been beaten up by skinheads. He's desperate to get back to Allyson, but he can't even remember her name --- all he remembers is his nickname for her, Lulu. His frantic searching around Paris results in no good leads, so Willem soon goes back to what he knows best --- traveling aimlessly. This time, though, he always has Lulu in the back of his mind.
Having just come into a nice little sum of money (thanks to the recent sale of his family's house boat), Willem is free to go where he pleases. He and a friend head to Mexico (not coincidentally, near where Allyson's family spends a week over the Christmas holidays each year), where Willem meets a woman who helps him gain some perspective on both love and his career.
Willem also heads, more or less reluctantly, to India, where his mother now lives. Willem has always had a distant, at best, relationship with his mother, who has seemed to hold him at arm's length, especially after the death of Willem's father. At first, during Willem's visit, she seems just as remote as ever, sending Willem off on his own excursions instead of wanting to spend time with him. But Willem begins gradually to realize that perhaps his mother thinks of him, and cares for him, more than he ever knew. She's just done so in a way that works for her --- and, if Willem is honest with himself, maybe works for him, too.
His time in India --- and a chance casting into a Bollywood film --- also rekindles Willem's passion for acting, a path he continues to pursue when he returns to Amsterdam. But even as Willem begins to clarify what he wants in life, Lulu is never far from his mind. How would this year have been different had they never met? And how could it have been different had they never been separated?
Like JUST ONE DAY, JUST ONE YEAR uses a romantic encounter as a springboard for self-discovery, as Willem uses his brief encounter with Allyson to question how he'd been spending his life before her and what he can imagine his life looking like in the future. At times, Willem's story seems a little aimless, as he hops from continent to continent in search of...what? But that's appropriate, too, as the narrative mirrors his process of self-exploration and eventual clarity. JUST ONE YEAR lacks the breathless romanticism of its predecessor, but it's no less worthwhile for that --- readers will enjoy the chance to finally come to know the Willem who was more or less a mystery before.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on September 5, 2013