This review and others are posted at Read, Rinse, Repeat.
“So Lulu? What do you say? You want to go to Paris? For just one day?” Fortunately for us, Lulu (née Allyson) says yes. Good thing for Gayle Forman, too; otherwise her book would have ended on page 30. High-school student, Allyson, impulsively takes off for Paris with Willem, a Dutch actor whom she'd just met in England. She spends the day and night with him, and in the morning he's...gone. Allyson is shattered and flees Paris. These events are covered in the synopsis, but they play out over the first 142 pages of the book.
When part 2 picks up, Allyson is a freshman in college, and she's still deeply depressed. She attempts to suppress thoughts of Willem, but “they are buried everywhere, like land mines.” She willingly ostracizes herself from her roommates. She avoids the party scene, using studying as an excuse, and spends her nights alone in bed. Her mother carries on with her overbearing ways and won't let Allyson forget that she left her suitcase and watch behind in Paris, although Allyson wisely told her parents they were stolen. But when her parents come to visit, she must play the role of “Happy College Student.” It's not easy to read a book narrated by someone as unhappy as Allyson, and some people might get fed up with Allyson at this point. I, however, could easily relate to her plight. My freshman year was completely miserable (for reasons that had nothing to do with a Dutch actor), but my life at that point was quite similar to hers.
When Allyson visits her life-long best friend, Melanie, at Melanie's college in New York City, the contrast is stark. Melanie actually IS living the Happy College Student life; no faking necessary. At the same time, both girls realize that they have begun to grow apart, and they react to their changing relationship quite differently. (Side note - why does it seem that male adolescent friendships are much more likely to last in the long-term than female friendships?)
Can just one day change a person? A life? If you didn't believe it before, you might believe it by the time you read the last page of this book. In Allyson's case, the answer is a very emphatic YES. For just one day, she became a different person, and when Willem's disappearance snatched her new self away, Allyson couldn't recover. We're not asked to accept the concept of love at first sight; that's something I will never believe. But we are asked to consider the potentially long-lasting ramifications a single encounter can have, and Gayle Forman beautifully shows us both the heartbreak and the magic than can ensue.