Just One Day
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This issue’s cover illustration is from Lunchtime by Rebecca Cobb. Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books for their help with this March cover and to Little Tiger Press for their support of the Authorgraph interview with David Roberts.
The title tells only half the story, for our American heroine records a momentous 24 hours in England and Paris which finishes painfully on p142. Then, from pp143 - 292, we join her in her freshman college year, where the day’s events hang over her. Finally, from p293 onwards, we return with her to Paris and thence to the Netherlands to sort out the impact of that single day. All that’s left is the opening of just one year, the sequel; and three pages of Acknowledgements which are so fulsome and personal you’d prefer not to know.
That one day begins in Stratford-on-Avon where earnest, hard-working Allyson Healey, just graduated from High School, is completing a ‘Teen Tours! Cultural Extravaganza’ whistle-stop trip around Europe, a reward from Mom and Dad for her good grades. Except Allyson and friend Mel, in an uncharacteristic act of rebellion, decide to give Hamlet a miss (seen it before) and head off to a free performance of Twelfth Night by alternative company, Guerrilla Will, over by the canal basin. Here, in the twinkling of a glance, Allyson is magnetised by Sebastian (or the actor playing him), which is quite something when you think what a thankless role Sebastian has.
That’s the trigger. One thing leads to many others, Allyson is suddenly shedding the parental constraints of a lifetime, the plot moves swiftly to London with Sebastian (aka Willem) and thence to Paris via Eurostar and a wild and wonderful day there. And at the end of it, a night of passion which Allyson has never known before. And in the morning, she wakes to find he’s gone. Except, surely, surely, she can’t have been so wrong about him.
Cut to first year at medical school in Boston (everything preordained by Mom). All her peers are Happy College Students, but Allyson’s spirit, freed by that one day, cannot settle to directions she has not chosen. The year becomes one of change, learning, revolt, and emerging independence, much of it released by the charismatic Professor Glenny’s Shakespeare class. Despite the prof’s self-conscious style (compare the smug Robin Williams character in Dead Poets’ Society), Allyson begins to find and trust herself, not least through her working partner Drew, a black student from NYC. There are several illuminating pages in which the interplay between Allyson, Drew and As You Like It’s Rosalind/Ganymede and Orlando makes for one of those moments of perception when literature tells you something startling about another part of your life – in this case, that day in Paris.
And so, Allyson heads for Europe (having earned her own money for the trip) in search of Willem (and, yes, her self) to uncover the mystery of why he disappeared that night. All of this opens the door for a sequel which begins with a chapter called ‘Willem’s Journey’. This could all have been so glibly sentimental but partly through the echoes of Shakespeare, there is substance in the characterisation here. After all, that old teenage tension – breaking free from patterns woven by possessive parents – is at least as old as Juliet’s issues with Mom and Dad Capulet.