Okay, so this book was kind of a mixed bag to me. It managed to pull me out of a reading slump I had been in, which was definitely a plus. I think the most important element of Gayle Forman’s books are always the characters. This book was no different. Each of the characters was well developed, and I truly enjoyed getting to learn more about Willem. In Just One Day we really don’t get much information about Willem’s family, friends, past – nothing really. Just One Year is, of course, Willem’s side of the story. Finally we get to see what has contributed to Willem’s decisions and personality – everything that really builds him as a character.
The biggest thing I would tell someone who’s thinking about starting this series (duology? companion novels?) is that if you’re looking for an epic love story, you’re not going to find it here. That was the one thing that was very misleading for me when I read Just One Day. I was prepared for a swept-away romance set in wonderful Paris, which is definitely not what you get with the first book. This is probably my fault as I should’ve read the description more closely, but I was expecting a romance and I didn’t get it. That being said, I still really enjoyed the book. Also, this is supposed to be a review of Just One Year, not Just One Day.
My point with all of that is that when I picked up Just One Year, I knew what I was getting into. I expected that the story would be mostly focused on Willem, and Allyson probably wouldn’t make an appearance (at least, not for the majority of the book). In that way, I think it let me enjoy the book more because I wasn’t wondering where the romance was. This book, along with Just One Day, are absolutely 100% about character development to me. I look at them as kind of a lesson on how to properly create a character with complex relationships, possibly past complications, and give them a lot of room to grow. From the first glimpse we get of Willem in Just One Day, Forman takes his character and molds it into a fully fledged out being. Willem’s story seems to be one of healing, mostly. He’s recovering from something that happened quite recently, and because of this event he’s become estranged from his mother. This was one of my favourite story lines from the book – the relationship between Willem and his mother. Willem’s mom was a very well written character in that I did not agree with her actions whatsoever, but reading about her backstory and who she is as a person, I had an understanding for why she did the things she did. It didn’t justify them, it just made her a more believable character.
The book is set in many places, as you might expect of Willem, which I absolutely loved. I’m a huge fan of books about travel, or books set in other countries. Willem travels across the globe, from touching down in Europe, Mexico, and India. Throughout the changing backdrops, the story remains as Willem tries to track down Allyson as well as heal from his past.
My biggest disappointment was the point at which the book ends. I desperately wanted to see more of Allyson and Willem actually being on the same continent, but alas… However, I recently heard that Gayle Forman is writing a novella to continue their story, after the door scene (finally). Additionally, while I enjoyed watching Willem transform and break down the barriers he’d built up in the past, I wasn’t fully committed to his story. I was interested, but I wasn’t enthralled. For a story in which the characters are the central aspect, I just didn’t care about them enough.
Aside from that, I really appreciated the small details that went into every character. It seemed like anyone who showed up in the book was there for a purpose. Even the minor characters had a reason for being there, and were used tactfully to help the story progress. There wasn’t any unnecessary fluff, and the pieces of the story fit well together.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I wasn’t completely captured by the story or the characters, but it had a steady progression of character development paired with exciting travel that kept me reading. If you’re looking for a story that is very much based upon the characters, and has central themes of character growth and development, then I definitely recommend these books. However, if you’re looking for a love story, this isn’t it.