No, I’m actually not going to get into the whole “New Adult” book discussion, because, frankly, I’m not that interested, and also because others have done it much better, especially Angela on AB4T today and Liz on Tea Cozy over the weekend. But I realized when I was reading Angela’s article today that I had just read a book that is marketed as a YA book, but that is, in fact, focused on that college-age period.
Just One Day, by Gayle Forman, is due out next week from Dutton. The story takes place over the course of a year. It begins the summer after Allyson graduates from high school, when she takes the “Teen Tours! Cultural Extravaganza” to Europe, along with her best friend, Melanie. Allyson is a good girl from Pennsylvania–she gets good grades, she doesn’t drink, she does what is expected of her. So she even surprises herself when, on the tour’s last day in Stratford-on-Avon, she persuades Melanie to skip the scheduled performance of Hamlet by the Royal Shakespeare Company to go to the free outdoor “Guerrilla Will” production of Twelfth Night at the Canal Basin. There, she is completely smitten by the young man who plays Sebastian.
Amazingly enough, the next day, as she and Melanie take the train to London for their last three days on their own before heading back home, she runs into “Sebastian,” who, it turns out, is a 19-year-old Dutchman named Willem. One thing leads to another, and suddenly, Allyson–whom Willem has decided to call Lulu, after Louise Brooks–is headed for Paris with Willem for just one day. It all seems to make sense, since Paris is just a couple of hours by train from London, and it’s the one city they weren’t able to see on the “Teen Tours!” trip, because of an airport strike.
So “Lulu” and Willem spend the day–and night–in Paris, but in the morning, Willem is gone, and Allyson panics. She makes her way back to London, and on home, but she is devastated, because she thought she and Willem really had something, and she doesn’t know why he left. What’s more, she doesn’t know how to get in touch with him–she never learned his last name–and he doesn’t even know her real name, so he can’t get in touch with her.
Allyson starts college in Boston in the fall, and the middle section of the book is about her first year in college. I think it is one of the best depictions I have ever read of the confusion of that first year in college, especially since she is already in distress from the events of the summer. She has trouble connecting with her roommates, she isn’t doing well in classes, she is losing touch with Melanie, who has gone to a college in New York. Things start to improve in the second semester, when she drops her pre-med classes and starts taking things like “Shakespeare Out Loud.” By the end of the school year, she has regained some equilibrium, and is determined to go back to Paris and try to find Willem. The only part of the book I had some trouble with was how quickly she was able to earn the $2500 she needed for the trip, but I’ll let that go for now.
In August, she returns to Paris, and eventually Amsterdam, on the trail of Willem. It turns out that this book is the first of two. Based on no evidence other than the plots of Forman’s earlier duet, If I Stay and Where She Went, I wonder if the second book will be told more from Willem’s perspective.
But all of that is prelude to what I was thinking about in regard to “New Adult.” This book, as I noted, is marketed–appropriately–as Young Adult. Yet Allyson is 18 and a high-school graduate at the beginning, and 19 at the end. The situations, both in Europe and at home, are completely appropriate for a first-year college student. Allyson is struggling with her identity in very real ways. Does she really want to be a doctor, or is that her mother’s dream for her? Do she and Melanie really have as much in common as they thought, or was it just proximity? Is she the person in her head or the person she presents to the world? Is it true that the main theme of Allyson’s life, of her adventures with Willem, and of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is that “no one is who they pretend to be”?
Anyway, I was completely drawn in by Just One Day, and am looking forward to reading the companion novel (which I suppose won’t be available for at least a year [sigh]).
Finally, I read another new book (due out in February, from Delacorte), Hattie Ever After, by Kirby Larson, that also deals with a young woman in her late teens. This book, however, is definitely not in the New Adult category. In fact, it even reads a little bit young for YA. I would say it’s an upper-elementary/middle-school book, something for ages 12-14 (so I guess that does make it technically YA, doesn’t it?). Hattie, fresh from the loss of her uncle’s homestead in Montana (Hattie Big-Sky), makes her way to San Francisco, where she hopes to get a job for the Chronicle. She does, although her first job is as a cleaning woman, not as a reporter. This is a delightful piece of historical fiction (although it had me again thinking about the fine line authors must tread in making the time and setting ring true without trumpeting “I did lots of research!” I think Larson mostly stays on the right side of the line.). In this book, Hattie, like Allyson, is trying to sort our her identity–does being a writer mean she must forgo having a husband and family?
So I think we will be hearing more about both of these books as the year goes on. They were a great way for me to jump into my 2013 reading!