I’m somewhat surprised to realize that this is the first book by Nicholas Sparks that I’ve ever read. I’m not sure why. I saw movies based on two of his books (The Notebook and Message in a Bottle) and loved them, but I’ve never actually read one of his books until now.
A Walk to Remember is a great one to start with if you’re in the same boat as me. While this is a light romance with very much a Christian/coming of age theme, it’s a real page turner. It’s a reminiscence. The narrator is almost 60 and about to enter the new millennium, and he’s looking back tenderly to the best year of his life, a time when he’s entering his senior year and trying to figure out where he’s going and what he’s got to offer. His father, a wealthy congressman, would like him to go to Harvard but Landon Carter, 17 years old, isn’t even certain he has the grades and resumé to get him into University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNCCH).
As Landon tells his story, he is that teenager again, a bit smartass, a bit scared, and a bit confused. His father thinks he should be student body president and once Landon sees the competition, he thinks he might be able to do it. When his buddy gets the athletic side of the students and their girlfriends to vote for him, he’s a shoe-in. A typical teenager, Landon thinks he’ll take drama — no tests, a real “blow-off” class. His enthusiasm increases dramatically when he realizes the class is 90% female.
Landon tells us right up front that no-one could be more surprised than he himself that he would fall in love with Jamie Sullivan. Jamie was a sweet girl — helped everyone, rescued animals, visited the orphans — but she just wasn’t with it. Her mother died in childbirth and her father was a staunch Baptist pulpit thumper spouting fire and brimstone about “fornicators” and trying to raise a girl all on his own. Hegbert (“what kind of parents name their kid Hegbert, anyway?” queries Landon) is the butt of many pranks and Jamie suffers partly because of his image. Jamie, too, has an outcast image as she constantly carries a Bible with her, spends her time reading it at lunch, wears a dull brown sweater and a plaid skirt all the time and wears her hair in a bun at the back of her head as if she’s already “on her way to interview for a job at the library”. She’s not someone Landon has ever socialized with but when, in desperation, he realizes she’s the only senior girl who hasn’t already got a date to the Homecoming dance and as school president (yes, he made it), he’d better ask her before one of the losers still without a date beat him to it. This was the reluctant (on his part) beginning of a relationship.
Slowly, Landon’s view of Jamie does a complete 180° turn. The Bible she carries, it turns out, belonged to her mother and she kept it close as an anchor. Landon is so touched by the orphans when he accompanies her to talk to the director of the orphanage that he adds his own funds to beef up the collection Jamie has been raising by means of about 60 bottles and cans she has distributed to the town merchants. When she asks him to take the male lead in the drama their class is presenting at Christmas, The Christmas Angel (written by her father about a man who is trying to get his daughter the gift she wants for Christmas — he didn’t approve of the Dickens’ ghosts), he takes it on first as an obligation, but very soon is caught up with the impact of the story and Jamie’s sincerity.
At the end of the prologue, Landon says:
This is my story; I promise to leave nothing out.
First you will smile, and then you will cry — don’t say you haven’t been warned.
And you will. Even though you see the ending coming, there are still tender surprises and poignant moments that will leave you breathless when you turn the last page. You may be left with questions about how his special year with Jamie changed Landon’s future but you still close the book with satisfaction, almost as if you were there with Jamie and Landon as they watched the sun set and the moon rise from the edge of Iron Steamer Pier on Bogue Banks, NC on a beautiful February day. * * * * *