I really do not know why it took me so long to read Just One Year and Just One Day. Just One Day appeared to be my sort of YA contemporary novel: romance + travel + heartache. Allyson Healey is on a school trip to England when she meets Willem De Ruiter, a charming Dutch boy, starring in an underground performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Allyson knows there’s something between them – although she is not quite sure if it’s genuine – and so she does something out of the ordinary and embarks on a spontaneous journey. Allyson and Willem jump on the Eurostar and head to Paris for the day, even though Allyson will have to be on a plane home in a few days. She does not speak French, she’s never been to the city before, and she is hopeless at reading maps, so she leaves it up to Willem to show her the beauty of the city. Until he disappears and she’s left stranded.
I picked up Just One Day and incorrectly assumed that Willem would leave Allyson – we know he leaves from the start – shortly towards the end of the story, after we’ve spent nearly the entire length of the book with the happy couple, but no. It happens much sooner than that, which makes for a much more interesting and emotionally complex novel.
Just One Day really just shows us the briefest of romances. We can see how both Allyson and Willem get caught up in the moment, in what they mean to each other and what the city means to them. Allyson is a little like me – she plays it safe and often holds back, so I do understand the urge to do something drastic, like get away for a while and live life as if it was a movie – but Just One Day doesn’t let us go in that direction. In reality, it’s not romantic and life isn’t a movie and no, an inspiring movie score will not suddenly start to play.
After Willem leaves, we realise that the story is actually more about Allyson herself and the struggle she’s had with control over her own life and her own happiness, which is brilliantly done and told with honesty and conviction. I love Anna and the French Kiss. I think it’s cute and wonderful and perfect, and at first I thought Just One Day was fairly similar, but it’s not that version of Paris that we see. I love that Just One Day goes in a different direction. Willem is cultured, elusive, spontaneous and an experienced traveller – the opposite of Allyson – but Just One Day is not really about him, which is why Just One Year did not quite live up to my expectations.
Just One Year is from Willem’s point of view and continues from the moment that he is found after he leaves Allyson and disappears. I really was interested in and curious about his life and his story, but I cared more about Allyson as a character. Willem, although showing bursts of determination and evidence of painful emotions over his short relationship with Allyson and lack of knowledge where she might be now, did not seem to care about her as much or seem as deeply affected by the fact that he might never see her again. In Just One Day, I enjoyed his personality, but in Just One Year, I thought his searches were pitiful and kept waiting for him to take control. Yet he has his own issues to deal with, so perhaps Allyson and Willem have too much on their minds to be a couple. But don’t get me wrong, I loved finding out more about Willem’s family and why he struggles to make connections with people. I may not have given either book five stars, but they both left me with a lot to feel and a lot to think about.
If you’re looking for a young adult romance, I’d say that although it’s certainly part of the story and it’s bittersweet, Just One Year and Just One Day are about the trials and tribulations of self-discovery more than anything else. I loved that they are companion novels, rather than sequels, and would love to see this separate yet dual narrative appear more in young adult literature. It goes to show that one perspective cannot truly give us the whole story.
Just One Day
Published: 8th January 2013 (US) 10th January 2013 (UK)
Publisher: Speak (US) Random House Children’s Publishers (UK)