Gayle Forman, you are a fantastic writer. I just had to say that up-front. Forman’s young adult book If I Stay and its sequel of sorts, Where She Went, were excellent, and she hasn’t disappointed me with her newest.
In this novel, which I would really classify as kind of “new adult” rather than “young adult,” since its main character has graduated high school and goes off to college during the book and is a fairly mature official “adult,” Allyson Healey gets to spend a few weeks touring Europe after her high school graduation, thanks to the largesse of her well-off and highly involved parents. She’s always been an excellent student and has a promising college and work career ahead of her. She just considers herself kind of boring and predictable. When her best friend, Melanie, suggests that this trip is just their first opportunity to really reinvent themselves around new people and in new places, Allyson doesn’t really join her friend in the enthusiasm for the concept, though “Mel” slips into a new persona instantly.
But when she sees a handsome guy in a street performance of Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon, and then just so happens to run into him again on the train the next day, Allyson feels a jolt of excitement for the opportunity to be different — if only for one day. When Willem posits the idea, she spontaneously takes the train with him from London into Paris to spend just one day there. They don’t do touristy stuff; they hang out, explore, get lost. And it is an absolutely perfect day, even though some odd stuff happens.
When that one day is over, though, she heads back to Boston for college, the same old Allyson as before. And a depressed one at that.
The beauty of the story isn’t the quirky plot of a highly unusual day spent with a total stranger in a literally foreign city; it’s the digging that Allyson does into herself, the growth she makes, over the course of the book. The best kinds of stories lay bare a character’s thoughts and feelings and motivations, and this one really lets us get to know Allyson. It’s a beautiful journey, and it feels utterly real. Forman proves she truly is a gifted writer, even as this story doesn’t quite pack the punch of her previous two books, which involved the more intense plot points of family ties, grief, and loss.
An added bonus is all the tramping around Europe. I just loved being there in those cities with Allyson, drinking in all the sights and sounds and becoming a part of the city streets. (I am going to have to find a true macaron to try, as well.) It inspired me to explore and just live and let go. The only drawback was the end, which wasn’t nearly enough information for me to conclude the story. The book will have a companion book coming up later this year (luckily, not too far away), told from the point of view of Willem, and it will complete the story. But in the meantime, I feel a little gypped.
Rated: Moderate. There is one f-word and some uses of moderate and mild language, including some in French, but a lot of the book is fairly free of offensive language. There is one sex scene, which is fairly detailed in the making-out part but not so much after. There are also scenes in which the characters drink alcohol but generally don’t get drunk. There is also just some talk about these college students drinking or partying, but it’s minimal. Since this book is really best targeted to other “new adults,” it really rates about a moderate for them and for adult readers.