Saturday, October 19, 2013

Book Review: Just One Year by Gayle Forman

I think it's safe to say that nobody really hates love. Sure, some people might find over-the-top, ooey gooey declarations of how the mere sight of one's beloved sends their spirits soaring through the air and all that a tiny bit sickening. But no one actually hates love. Love is perennial, timeless. It's been there since Adam and Eve, to Romeo and Juliet, to Orlando Bloom and Miranda Kerr. In Gayle Forman's "Just One Year", we have Willem and Allyson. This sequel to "Just One Day", which, I kid you not, had me squealing on the edge of my seat, was released just last week, and I, hopeless romantic that I am, naturally had to grab it. ASAP.

Rewind one year. When Willem wakes up in a hospital, he doesn't know where he is, or why he's bruised and battered. All he knows is that he's alone once again, and that he needs to find a girl named Lulu. He remembers that one day they shared together in Paris, just one day in which Willem begins to wonder whether he's met the girl he's not going to fall in love with--but stay in love with. Determined to find her, Willem travels all over the world in an attempt to chase fate, from Mexico to India. But as a year passes by with no sign of Lulu, Willem begins to lose hope--and the belief that they were fated to be together.

While I absolutely loved both Lulu and Willem in "Just One Day", I have to reluctantly admit that I was a little disappointed with Willem's character in "Just One Year". The entire book kind of goes like this: 'Gasp I have to find a girl named Lulu', 'darn, pissed off my ex-girlfriend because I slept with her again (oops) so I can't just wait for Lulu when she comes to pick up her luggage', 'let's go to Mexico', 'let's go to (insert other country here)', 'oooh hot ex-girlfriend, time to sleep with her again', 'sad sad where's Lulu', etc. You catch my drift. I just felt like Willem was such a frustrating protagonist to follow throughout the novel, because there's so much he could do, but he just so easily gives in to his whims and fancies. I mean, this whole thing where he's sleeping with any and all of the ex-girlfriends he stumbles upon, even though he's still pining over the elusive Lulu? Sure, he's nice and charming and good looking and all, but I just couldn't help but feel like he was way too complacent. That being said, there is some character development going on, especially with his family issues and insecurities, and that was definitely one area in which I found myself sympathizing with Willem a little more. And yes, he is the type, because of those issues, to run away from commitment, whether to a girl, or places, or jobs, but I mean, come on, Willem! Snap out of it!

The plot of "Just One Year" was a little diminished by the whole wanting-to-slap-Willem-awake thing, but was pretty exciting nonetheless. Don't get me wrong, Willem isn't a character you end up hating. He's just frustrating, is all. It's really interesting to see things from Willem's perspective, after having spent "Just One Day" in Allyson/Lulu's, and meeting his friends and family and numerous ex-girlfriends coloured his character in a little more as well. What's especially exciting is that Willem, of course, travels all over the world, so Ms. Forman takes her readers across the globe from Mexico to India to Holland. It's like going on an adventure, seeing different cultures and types of people--like taking a little trip through reading. The people that Willem meets on his journeys are diverse and dynamic, and really added dimensions to the story and Willem himself as well.

Frustrations with Willem aside, I thought that the writing in "Just One Year", as always, was beautiful. Ms. Forman is able to create thoughtful, striking prose, with nuances that are both understated and poignant at the same time. And such incredible and balanced writing is necessary when dealing with Big Themes like love, since you don't want cliched, over-the-top tropes that you hear over and over again and become over-sensitized to. In fact, let me give you one of my favourite lines in the book:
There's a difference between losing something you knew you had and losing something you discovered you had. One is a disappointment. The other is truly a loss.
Like, wow. There's nothing flamboyant or crazy about those three short sentences. But the words capture such a powerful truth in the most perfect way, one that hits you right in the heart and makes you think, Exactly. It is really through Ms. Forman's prose that I found myself really being drawn into the story, seeking moments of connection and realization of so many truths in life, ones that you don't really notice until you see them written out just like that.

Overall, "Just One Year" is more of an okay sequel to "Just One Day", largely because of how frustrating Willem is throughout the novel! Nonetheless, there is some interesting character development going on, as well as some exciting adventures, and, of course, the beautiful, striking writing. I'd definitely recommend checking out the first book out--and maybe checking out "Just One Year" if you really want to hear more about Allyson and Willem.

Rating: 3/5

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