When sheltered American good girl Allyson “LuLu” Healey first meets laid-back Dutch actor Willem De Ruiter at an underground performance of Twelfth Night in England, there’s an undeniable spark. After just one day together, that spark bursts into a flame, or so it seems to Allyson, until the following morning, when she wakes up after a whirlwind day in Paris to discover that Willem has left. Over the next year, Allyson embarks on a journey to come to terms with the narrow confines of her life, and through Shakespeare, travel, and a quest for her almost-true-love, to break free of those confines.
I have to admit, I was reluctant to read this because the inside cover says Allyson “follows” Willem to Paris. That made her sound desperate, which I wasn’t thrilled about. But they actually go together, which is totally different.
This is one of those “transitional” books that I love, that happen after high school graduation, when there is so much change and uncertainty.
The relationship between Allyson and her parents, especially her mom, was so realistic. It was easy to relate to her desire to be independent, but not wanting to disappoint them in the process. And the change in her lifelong friendship with Melanie as they part ways for college? Again, so realistic and painful to read about.
The book had a great flow and it was romantic without being overomanticized, if that makes sense. It’s obvious Willem has some secrets (and is possibly a lothario) and Allyson, even in her infatuation, recognizes this. He’s not this all-encompassing *perfect being* in other words. They do share a definite connection, be it love or lust or something in between. And some of their moments together definitely have that sweet, first-love flutter, like on page 81:
He looks around. “It’s nice, this. The canal.” He looks at me. “You.”
“I’ll bet you say that to all the canals.” But I flush in the musty rich darkness.
We stay like that for the rest of the ride, swinging our legs against the side of the boat, listening as the odd bit of laughter or music from Paris seeps underground. It feels like the city is telling secrets down here, privy only to those who think to listen.
The descriptions of Europe were beautiful, even the places Allyson found less than awe-inspiring. I liked her perspective – it fit with her being a realist who happened to take a leap of faith. It also explained her response in the months that followed. It would have been easy for that part of the story to fall into melodramatics, but it was handled well – enough of a hint of her sadness without it turning into whininess.
One small nitpick: She writes Willem a letter in March, saying she’s been trying to forget him for nine months, but it’s only been seven months. Faulty math there.
I liked the bits of humor (her co-worker teaching her French cuss words), her awkward attempts to make friends at college, and her bravery when she starts talking to the group of Australian strangers. I’m a homebody now, but back when I used to take trips on a whim, I’d run into people at a club that I hadn’t seen since the month before (at another club) and it’d be all, “Hey!” because you form a certain kinship. My grandmother (in all her lovely wanderlust) still talks to fellow travelers she met 30 years ago.
Finally: the end. I actually liked the ambiguity. Even if there wasn’t a plan for another book, it didn’t bother me to not have answers to every question. It sorta helps to keep that one day in this perfect, unspoiled time capsule.
But of course I’m gonna read the sequel.
If you’ve read the book, come join the discussion at YA Book Club!