I, like so many other, read Gayle Forman's Just One Day (my thoughts) with much anticipation and excitement. I was a little more wary of Just One Year than most though, which is why it has taken me this long to read it. I loved Allyson's story and I was actually a-okay with how it ended. I liked the mystery and that I could fill in the gaps myself. I was a little worried that getting Willem's side of the story would take away from that. I enjoyed it just as much though, and was pleasantly surprised by that.
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 if the hand of fate is as strong as he’d thought. . . .
My favorite part of this duology is that it is not just a romance. The romance is there, but it is a spark that sends both Allyson and Willem on their paths of self discovery. It is those stories that made me fall in love with both of them, and I appreciated how their journeys mirrored each other. They are incredibly similar but with enough contrast to match their differing life places and personalities. Both of them are struggling to figure out what they really want in life, Allyson with too much parental direction and Willem without enough. Like Allyson, Willem has issues he needs to work through with his mother. They are different issues but his relationship with her is strained in a similar way. (His mother is far more likable though.) Shakespeare plays a huge part in bringing both of them to a realization of what they want and how to proceed with their lives. In Willem's story travel also plays a big part as he goes around the world in search of a plan and purpose.
One thing that really bothered me about Willem's character all along was how he used girls and sex as therapy. His careless attitude is what had Allyson wary of him and there was enough evidence in her story of the trail of broken hearts he left in his wake. While these girls allowed themselves to be used, and so are also to blame, I really hated that he never seemed to notice they were people as well as sexual partners. And that changed so much over the course of his story making me feel far more satisfied with his character arc than I was expecting. More importantly, I like that it wasn't Allyson coming back into his life that changed it but his altering perspective on his own life and seeing his own flaws in a different light. I like flawed characters because that makes them believable, and Willem is certainly flawed, but I also like to see characters who grow and try to see their flaws. Willem does this, some things he accepts about himself, but he changes SO MUCH. Part of that is his finishing the grieving process for his father, but a lot of it is him discovering who he wants to be. It was a fascinating journey to be a part of and I was unable to put the book down until it was finished.
I can see some readers being annoyed with the ending, but I LOVED what she did. It leaves so much up to the imagination and possibility. And that's what these books were ultimately about, the limitless possibilities of life and love.