Just One Day Summary

Gayle Forman

Just One Day

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Just One Day Summary

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Just One Day (2013), a young adult romance novel by American author Gayle Forman, follows the protagonist Allyson Healey, a recent high school graduate traveling Europe who encounters Willem, a traveling actor from the Netherlands. Allyson falls deeply in love with Willem and runs off with him to Paris, where he vanishes after less than a day. The first book in a trilogy, it is followed by Just One Year, which takes place in parallel from Willem’s perspective, and a final volume, Just One Night.

The novel begins just after Allyson has finished high school. Before beginning college, she looks forward to traveling Europe on a guided tour funded by her parents. The first leg of the trip is underwhelming: the other people on the trip, also soon-to-be college students, treat it like a prequel to independence from their parents and the college bar scene. Each day, they visit a number of historical sites and then depart to party wherever they may be. Allyson can barely hide her disappointment; lightening up a little, she coaxes her best friend, Melanie, to spend nights with her in the hotel. Disillusioned about her classmates’ apparent transformation into partier stereotypes, Allyson and Melanie decide that they will take life after high school seriously and get a head start for college. When Mel gives herself a makeover, deciding to present as a cool and edgy girl, Allyson follows suit, cropping her hair short. On the last night of the trip, they go to a performance of Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night. There, Allyson meets Willem, the actor who plays Sebastian. She first catches his eye towards the end of the play; Willem falls for her because she doesn’t loiter near the door next to the backstage area like all the other girls.

The morning after the performance, Allyson and Melanie say farewell to the rest of their tour group and get on an early train out of the city. Their plan is to stay with Melanie’s extended family for a few days and then return to the United States. Willem, happening to board the same train, sees Allyson. Meanwhile, Melanie focuses on catching some sleep, having drunk too much the night before; Allyson feasts on a strange breakfast including salt and vinegar chips. Willem knocks on her car door, asking her to sit near him. He teases her for her breakfast, calling her a stereotypical American.

Allyson learns that Willem hails from the Netherlands, and has been traveling around Europe with his cohort of actors, finding venues to perform in to scrape by. Allyson is enamored of his adventurous and carefree persona, and the sacrifices he has made to follow his passion for acting. She feels as though he is an old friend; he gives her the nickname “Lulu,” something she would not usually tolerate, and declines to learn her real name. He says that Lulu is the name of an actor she looks like. Eventually, Melanie wakes up and comes into the compartment. They tell Willem that they had hoped to reach Paris during the tour, but weren’t able to due to traffic delays from labor strikes. In response, Willem offers to pay for Allyson’s trip to Paris for a day. She takes a leap of faith and accepts, leaving Melanie to go to her family’s alone.

After Allyson drops off her luggage at the office of a friend who works in the city, the trip turns out less than ideal. Willem does not seem completely honest about himself, which draws active questioning from Allyson. She coaxes admissions out of him about his affinity for sleeping around while they wander Paris. Nonetheless, they have some unforgettable experiences, napping in a public park and nearly getting into a fight with a gang. As evening approaches, Willem abruptly declares the exploration over. Allyson is somewhat bitter, but reconciles with him, choosing to give his intentions the benefit of the doubt. Without shelter, they scrounge for a place to sleep, ending up in an artist’s workshop. There, Willem makes an analogy between the act of falling in love and the quality of being permanently stained. They kiss and sleep together.

Allyson wakes in the morning to find that Willem has left. Distraught and panicking, she leaves the city and returns to the United States. The remainder of the story follows her time acclimating to college. She is initially unable to focus on her studies, partially because she is still attached to her idealized memory of Paris and Willem. The sad ending to the memory is exacerbated by her knowledge that she alienated herself from Melanie. Eventually, she makes new friends and chooses a tolerable course of study. The new friends convince her to keep searching for Willem.

At the end of the novel, Allyson follows a trail of clues, making her way to the house where Willem grew up. Willem is there, and she finally tells him that her name is Allyson. Willem reveals that his mother took the same steps to find his father after they had a random encounter in Europe. Just One Day rejects a repetition of the Shakespearean plot it references, suggesting that individuals have agency to build their modern love stories however they want if they try hard enough.