As a graduation present, eighteen-year-old Allyson goes on a European tour with her best friend the summer before college. On a whim, the two duck out of a RSC performance to see a Guerrilla Shakespeare performance in the park and Allyson meets Willem, a Dutch wanderer with a role in Twelfth Night
. The two connect and the the next thing you know, Willem's inviting Allyson to spend the day with him in Paris. Feeling like she ought to become a more spontaneous person, Allyson goes along and the two share a fun day in the City of Lights. When Allyson wakes up the next morning, though, Willem is gone and Allyson is alone in a foreign city. She goes home and off to college, but over the next year she can't shake the sense of hurt and confusion that stems from that night in Paris and decides she has to figure out what happened to Willem.
This is a wildly buzzy book. Lots of very positive reviews here and the waitlist at the library is huge. I have such mixed feelings on this book. There were times when I enjoyed it and couldn’t get through it fast enough, but other times when I said to myself, “Maybe I’ve just reached the age where I am officially too jaded to enjoy YA love stories anymore.” To start, I liked the writing – the voice is great and I think Forman did a great job developing Allyson as a character. I definitely want to read more Forman, but the plot twists ultimately didn't work for me.
Here's the thing:I get what it’s like to spend a brief amount of time with someone and feel like they’ve changed your life, only to have that time come to an end and feel like you’re off balance. I get what it’s like to long for closure and to want to have answers. I get what it’s like to be depressed, to feel like you lack the skills necessary to successfully interact with other people (Gayle Forman does a spectacular job presenting a young woman who is depressed without being suicidal, and I commend her for that).
My main problem is that no one seemed to address the fact that Allyson might have been overreacting just a smidge. She spent 24 hours with this guy who was obviously a bit of a player. Their time together was unremarkable, not particularly romantic or engaging to me as a reader. I didn’t get why it was so important to Allyson to track Willem down instead of addressing the emotions that he left her with. I just didn’t get it.
Also, frankly, I wanted someone to address the fact that Allyson was behaving kind of irresponsibly. She got on a train with a total stranger to go to another country where she had never been, she didn’t speak the language, she had little extra spending money, and she knew that her only contact was going to be without a cell phone. I found myself on the bus saying, aloud, "Oh sweetie." And while she did basically get abandoned in Paris, I felt like she ultimately didn't grow or learn anything from that experience -- her growth as a character came from her trouble socializing at college, her crumbling friendship with Melanie, her rebellion against her mother's push for pre-med. Chasing Willem down felt counterproductive to me.
There is a sequel of sorts out later this year, which addresses the story from Willem's point of view. I'm curious to see how Forman develops his character and brings things full-circle, but I really hope there isn't a traditional happy-ever-after ending here.