Just One Day by Gayle Forman
This story takes place in a world that might be a stretch for some readers; it begins with a main character meeting a guy at a Shakespeare play and deciding to throw all caution to the wind in the name of adventure. No, that’s not the entire plot…that’s just the first day. Allyson Healy lives a life of order and obedience up until that point, complete with a life that’s been mapped out based on a decision she made in middle school. Her parents are loving but controlling, and she never knew she craved freedom from those things until she had the chance to run. The allure of Paris and a beautiful person named Willem draw her temporarily away. After Allyson returns home, she tries to adapt back to her old life sans adventure. Allyson starts college and her relationships in life begin to change while she feels more stuck than ever. Slowly, she begins to figure out that in order to move forward with her life that she’s got to make changes by going backward a bit.
Yes, this book sounds as though it’s got lots of room for fluffy teen-angst moments. But, it’s completely the opposite. Forman has crafted a story that will resonate with your teen readers and adults alike. Forman’s writing style makes you overlook any unbelievable parts in the plot. The reader isn’t being told the story of a sad kid; rather, readers are living the doubts, fears and questions that come along with being eighteen, and actually becoming a functioning adult. The reader can feel the new friendships forming and taste the sense of living on the cusp of teenage child and young adult. Forman’s descriptions of Allyson’s European destinations and travels paint a scene that will make you yearn to visit these sites again and again—with or without Willem at your side. For this reader, the story definitely began as one thing and turned out as another—from finding love to learning how to love yourself in the process.
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
You know Elizabeth Wein’s voice from last year’s Printz honor title, Code Name Verity. This book is not a sequel; it is a companion title. The story is told in a similar writing style through Rose’s journal. We’re still experiencing the life of a female ATA pilot in Rose Justice and her compatriots. Rose takes some risks result in time as a political prisoner in Ravensbruck concentration camp in Nazi Germany. There, the descriptive nature of Wein’s writing kicks in. Wein definitely has a way with scenery. Akin to Forman, Wein’s writing style creates images that are powerful and meaningful to the reader—it is impossible to be unmoved by the themes in this book. The stories of the individual women that Rose meets while in the concentration camp are the biggest draw for the reader; this diverse group of women (even some who were defined as Rabbits by the Nazis and used as human experiment subjects) provide a face and a personality to those forced to endure such atrocity.
While I found value in reading Wein’s title, and I truly believe that this story is a win for fans of historical fiction, I didn’t find myself engrossed in the actual plot. And, I should have been, as Wein had a plethora of elements in her favor. The idea is fascinating, and kudos to Wein on using real historical figures to base her characters upon. The setting is one that, at the mere mention of the word Holocaust, evokes a powerful emotion. Wein had all of the elements of a winner here, but all of them just didn’t mix well for me. The journal writing style is not my favorite to read (I got through it with Verity only because I listened to it on audio). The story was interspersed with Rose’s poetry, too, which added another disruption to the flow. I can say that I was definitely connected to the emotion and the pain of the women (and Rose’s, too) in the story, I don’t know that I ever felt connected to Rose herself. She didn’t express the depth that would have moved me to call this book a complete win.
So, I’m calling Forman’s emotional connection the winning element. I think if Wein could have brought this to the table, things might have been different, but for now, I’m travelling with Allyson.
WINNER: Just One Day by Gayle Forman