Gayle Forman’s Just One Year was a bit of a problem for me. The book, a compliment to Forman’s 2012 novel, Just One Day, is advertised in such a way that I was expecting the story to continue from where it left off. Just One Day focused on Allyson, a girl who takes a trip to Europe and has a brief romantic encounter with a Dutchman in Paris, Willem. Allyson then spends the rest of the book dealing with her changed outlook on life and, eventually, her quest to find Willem again.
Just One Year is not so much a sequel as it is the same story, but from Willem’s side. Except in Just One Year, the romantic interlude in Paris is skipped over, communicated to readers only through Willem’s reminiscing. The majority of the book then focuses on Willem’s background, how his mindset has changed since meeting Allyson (who he knows only as “Lulu”) and his attempt to track her down.
The thing is, it just wasn’t quite what I was expecting. It was a bit of a letdown for me when I realized this was not really a book about Willem and Allyson. But then…once I came to terms with what was happening, I actually enjoyed Willem’s story a lot. While he was somewhat distant and difficult for me to pin down in Just One Day, Just One Year allowed me to really get to know him and appreciate his personality. Not only did I really enjoy his perspective, I also gained a sort of an ad hoc appreciation for his presence in the first book as well.
And actually, I found Willem’s story much more engaging than Allyson’s overall. While Allyson got to tell the Paris story, Willem gets to do all the interesting things afterward. He does a lot of traveling, and Forman’s ability to bring all the places he visits to life is just fantastic. I don’t know if she’s actually been to all the places she writes about…if she has, I’m extremely jealous, and if she hasn’t, I’m doubly impressed by her ability to describe them so vibrantly. Willem also deals with some personal and family issues, much like Allyson, but I found myself feeling a lot more empathetic with Willem as opposed to the frustration I felt with Allyson.
Just One Year is beautifully written and poignant; you can’t argue that…but I’m positive I’m not the only reader who felt disappointed that the book didn’t actually continue Willem and Allyson’s story. The end of Just One Day was a total cliffhanger, and Just One Year does basically nothing to resolve that. While there was nothing inherently wrong with the book – and in fact, I may have had nothing to complain about had this been a standalone novel – because of the first book and the marketing for the second, the precedent was set: “Before you find out how their story ends, remember how it began…” That implies we find out how the story ends. But we don’t; not really.
As a result, I spent a great deal of the book expecting and waiting for Willem and Allyson to reconnect. Instead of being able to really lose myself in the story at hand, instead I was distracted as to why the reconnection wasn’t happening. Had I known from the outset that the timeline doesn’t go past the end of Just One Day, I might have been able to relax into the story a bit more and enjoy Just One Year on its own merit. Which is why I am going out of my way to make a point about this in my review – I think if you know what you’re getting yourself into beforehand, Just One Year could be a really beautiful book. But for me, with my false expectations, a great deal of that beauty was tainted with disappointment. Just One Year is a good book, but it’s just not the book I wanted it to be.