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Review: Just One Year by Gayle Forman

“When he opens his eyes, Willem doesn’t know where in the world he is—Prague or Dubrovnik or back in Amsterdam. All he knows is that he is once again alone, and that he needs to find a girl named Lulu. They shared one magical day in Paris, and something about that day—that girl—makes Willem wonder if they aren’t fated to be together. He travels all over the world, from Mexico to India, hoping to reconnect with her. But as months go by and Lulu remains elusive, Willem starts to question whether the hand of fate is as strong as he’d thought . . .

The romantic, emotional companion to Just One Day, this is a story of the choices we make and the accidents that happen—and the happiness we can find when the two intersect.”

Most of the time, teen romance novels are written from the perspective of a woman. So I found it intriguing and a little refreshing to read about love through the eyes of a man. I also found it a bit frustrating the way our hero behaved in the novel. But I liked how I could see into the heart of a man, even if fictional and understand him better. 

I felt bad going into this novel because Willem woke up in a hospital and thus there was a good reason why Allyson woke up alone in Paris. My heart bleeds for Willem as he tries to remember where he is and even worst, remember the girl he left in the “white room.” Yet as he travels back through his memory, he comes to all the right places but way too late past the time. And at the end of his journey, he is at double happiness, but with the wrong “Lulu” and suddenly he is without any happiness. 

Still, our hero is determined and he returns to the place where Lulu stored her suitcase, at Celine’s club. Celine, an old flame tells him to forget about her and sell the watch he took from Lulu but Willem refuses, not wanting to lose what little piece of her he has left. However, there is no clue to Lulu and Celine is steadily trying to lure Willem back into her clutches. Yet Willem escapes, severing his ties to Celine forever. 

Feeing lost, he returns home, or as close to home he can find, to Utrecht. Back “home,” he meets up with his friends Broodje, “W,” and Henk at the flat where he used to live. While with his friends, he sees a movie that reminds him of the reason why he dubbed her Lulu, short for Louise Brooks; and when he can no longer stomach the feelings of longing and loss, he decides to go for a drink. On the way out of the theater, he sees another old flame, Ana Lucia, to distract from his feelings for Lulu. 

However, the distraction doesn’t last long as the holidays come around and Willem recalls that Allyson spends her vacation in Mexico every year, at the same place every time. With this new found hope, he books a ticket for himself and Broodje to Mexico on Ana Lucia’s computer. When she finds out, she publicly breaks up with Willem, however, he feels no shame as his hope to see Lulu again rises. 

Now in Mexico, he goes to every hotel with an ancient Mayan ruin in or near it. He must find Lulu and he feels within she is here somewhere, all he has to do is look. Yet after many hours, many days and even managing to con his way into getting free tours of the hotels, Willem is tired as well as his hopes and his heart, and thus he decides to give up the search for Lulu. 

Here is where Willem and my sympathy part ways and frustration come into play. Willem forfeits as he resumes he vagabond lifestyle of “accidents,” however, he runs into someone, a woman named Kate who runs a small play theater who discredits his theory. She believes like life needs directions or guidelines at least, for without it, one would surely have “accidents.” Willem is forced to rethink his philosophy and begins to wander if there are ever really “accidents” and if he and Lulu were meant to be nothing more than the one day adventure or if fate isn’t done with them yet. 

Of course Willem hasn’t completely ruled out his “accidents” theory as he continues to fumble through Mexico, letting the wind blow him wherever he may go. It is not until he gets food poisoning and somehow calls his Israeli mother Yael, in India, that he considers the universe or rather his own deep seeded desires trying to take him home to his mother. 

And once again, I am not thrilled with Willem but I can understand. Sometimes when we are lonely or lost, we turn to the one person who makes it all better, our mother. Despite the three year separation, Willem runs to his mother, hoping she can help him yet he suspects she will be as distant as ever, even though they are within the same country, the same room. And Willem sees this as another destination he must journey away from and get lost somewhere else. 

Finding himself more lost than ever, Willem cannot and does not want to focus on the things in life he can’t achieve. He would rather stay lost, wandering the earth falling into “accidents” than face the problems in front of him. Losing and wanting Lulu, longing for the mother he never really had and even missing the father and family that is now gone. But most importantly, never being able to find a place to finally call home and reach the end of this life long journey of love. 

Will Willem ever get over Lulu, will he be able to patch things with his mother and will he ever really plant his feet in one place to call it home? True the novel solves these questions but romance novels typically tend to ask questions about whether the girl will get the guy or suffer an unhappy ending altogether? The thing I like about Just One Year is that delves into other types of love, not just romantic. We get a feel for platonic as well as familial love and see how it affects Willem’s journey to finding a place to rest his wandering body as well as his soul. 

Just One Year is a novel devoted to discovering what one wants out of life and how far are they willing to achieve it. Just One Year is also about love, not just romantic but friends and family and how we need loved ones in our lives to be there when we get lost as well as once we find our way back home. But most importantly, Just One Year is about finding a place to belong and obtaining happiness.

Reviewed by Camia Rhodes 

Book Information
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 10/10/2013
Pages: 336

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