Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Dear John, Nicholas Sparks

How come every time I start a new review, I feel like it's confession time? And I'm not even Catholic! Well, here ya go... Nicholas Sparks is another of my guilty pleasures.

He's one of those authors that I reach for when I need a really good cry. Every single one of his books that I've ever read has been a guaranteed tear-jerker. Now don't get me wrong, that doesn't mean that I think they're all beautifully moving, or incredibly written, or fresh and innovative, or surprising, or anything like that. Almost without exception, his books are fairly predictable, at least to me. I can generally tell what's going to happen, who will fall in love, who will be heartbroken, who will die, and who should be cast when the book gets made into a movie. Still though, I'm drawn to these books like the proverbial moth to flame. I can't stay away from them. Sometimes, I can't get enough of them. Always, they are what I reach for when I just need a darn good cry. So of course, at Christmas, I find myself reading a LOT of Sparks. This year, he even made my gift list. And since I have one of those husbands that is totally determined that I will get what I want, I got this book yesterday. Yeah me!

Dear John is the story of John Tyree and Savannah Lynn Curtis. John and Savannah are both from North Carolina. He's from Wilmington on the coast, she's from Lenoir in the mountains. He's a reformed rebel, she's almost a saint. He's home from Germany on leave from the Army, she's on summer break from college building houses for Habitat for Humanity. They meet on Wrightsville Beach, when he jumps off the pier to rescue her purse. Neither of them are ever the same again.

During the few short days they have together before John must return to Germany, he and Savannah discover that they seem to complete each other. No, this is not some Jerry McGuire ripoff. Their love is real, and so is the heartache they feel when John gets on the plane. During their first year apart, they write and call often, and re-live their days together during the first night of each full moon. Their love seems to grow stronger and deeper, and they are convinced that they will end up together forever. After they are re-united a year later, their love only seems to strengthen. Counting down the days until John is discharged from the army, they make plans to marry. Along with the rest of the world, neither one can foresee how the events of September 11th will impact their lives and their plans for the future.

Well, that's takes you most of the way through the book. Yes, you can still read it and get lots out of it. Trust me, you get more info than I've given you just be reading the book flap. So don't think I blew all the good parts, ok?

What didn't I like? As I mentioned, I thought it was pretty obvious what would happen. I could see some of those plot turns a mile away. But then again, that's also part of why I like Sparks' books, as they are comfortable reads, nothing over the top happens. I wasn't too crazy about the way John seemed to use being in the army as an excuse to break his promise to Savannah. To me, that was not in keeping with the passion and devotion that John so often expressed. It seemed out of character. Also, the whole point of John and Savannah being apart seemed contrived to me, since I did 10 years in the Navy and know how easy it usually is for spouses to join servicemembers overseas. I still can't figure out why, if they were so much in love, Savannah didn't pack her bags and head over to Germany. Well, I guess there wouldn't have been much of a book if she'd done that, right?

What did I like? Well, it was sweet. Go ahead, gag if you must, but it's the truth. The story is told from John's POV. He expresses his love in glorious twenty-something detail. He chronicles his life with his father, a probable sufferer of Asperger's Syndrome. He details what it's like in a war zone. Basically, it's a different POV than I'm used to, and I really liked that.
- There's just something about reading a Southern author that fills me up to the brim. I loved the way John could tell that Savannah was from the mountains, because of her accent. This is something that people not from the South probably don't understand. To Yanks, we all sound the same, right? But to us, there is a very discernible difference between Charlotte and Charleston, Atlanta and Augusta, Wilmington and Winston-Salem. Yanks label our speech as "Southern twang" or "Southern drawl". Only another Southerner understands the subtle nuances that differentiate between coastal and mountain, city and farm. Sparks shows that better than most, and I love it in all of his books.
-Sparks can paint a picture with words like no other. In describing their relationship, John muses, "Our relationship, I felt with a heaviness in my chest, was beginning to feel like the spinning movement of a child's top. When we were together, we had the power to keep it spinning, and the result was beauty and magic and an almost childlike sense of wonder; when we separated, the spinning began inevitably to slow. We became wobbly and unstable, and I knew I had to find a way to keep us from toppling over." Can you see that picture in your head? Can you feel John's uneasiness, the way he senses that he needs to work hard to keep what he has? This is what Sparks does so well; he creates these incredibly vivid emotional pictures that you can't help but identify with. You get sucked right into John's struggle to keep that top spinning, to find a way to hold on to his ideal and perfect love with Savannah.

How does it end? Well, duh! I'm not telling. Some of you already have this book. One of you even named it as one of your Top Three of 2006. It doesn't make my Top Three list, but it's not bad at all. It did exactly what I needed it to do. It drew me out of my own life for most of the day, helped me escape into someone else's struggles for a while, and of course, brought those tension-relieving tears that are the reason I reach for a Sparks book in the first place. It was a decent story, with decent characters, and I enjoyed it. Would I buy it in hardback? No, because I got it as a gift. Would I suggest you get it in hardback? If you're a hardcore Sparks fan, you won't be disappointed. I know I wasn't. If you're not hardcore, put your name of the library list or wait for the paperback. It's NOT a bad buy, but I'm pretty firmly against paying $25 for any book. That's just me, though.

Agree? Disagree? Drop me a comment and tell me why. And by all means...

Keep turning those pages!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am the one who listed this book on her Top 3. Nicholas Sparks is my guilty pleasure. And while each book is pretty much predictable, I find myself sad when each book is over. I loved this book. I wasn't as impressed with Sparks's last book, but Dear John made me fall in love with him all over again.

Thanks for such a great review.