Nicholas Sparks, I will admit, is a purely guilty pleasure author for me. That isn’t to impute on his skill or on those who fully admire his work, but for me his books have always been more about escapist fluff than serious literature. Which explains, I think, why I picked up this slim little volume when I was trying so desperately to pull myself out of my reading slump. To be honest, it was a fully selfish choice – with dozens and dozens of books peering at me threateningly from the TBR shelf, I just wanted to curl into the book equivalent of the fetal position and read something I know wouldn’t really make me think, wouldn’t take too long to read (nothing gets you out of a slump better than the feeling of accomplishment of finishing a book!) and would take me down an emotional path I knew how to walk (I always cry, but I always know when I’m going to cry, so it’s beauty in the predictibility!)
A Walk to Remember, for the few of you who have managed to avoid either the book or the movie, is about a young man, Landon Carter, who falls in love at 17 with the preacher’s daughter, Jamie Sullivan. It’s late 1950′s Beaufort, South Carolina, and Landon is taught things about himself that he never anticipated when he realizes that he loves Jamie – an innocent, homely, kind and unfailingly Christian girl who he’s known his entire life but never really seen. Now, I have some issues with how heavy-handed the Christian aspects of this story can get, but, overall, it also played into the things I love most about the story – it’s a story of a boy with no faith learning how to have faith in something, which I think is a lesson that we all could learn just a bit more. **SPOILER** When he learns that Jamie has leukemia, he realizes that it’s time for him to own his own life and to be the person that so many around him see him to be. Her death is saddening, to be sure, but it’s also full of hope and the promise, for Landon, of a future better than it would have been otherwise. **END SPOILER**
I also love that this love story is almost an anti-love story, at least an anti-cliche love story. Landon falls in love with Jamie slowly, almost imperceptibly – he helps her out with the school play because he feels sorry for her, goes with her to help the orphans she volunteers with because he has a car, helps pick up the cans she puts out to collect money because he doesn’t know how to say no. And then, at the end of the day, he realizes that underneath all of his guilt and his “I just couldn’t say no”-ness, that it’s more than that. He’s fallen in love. The thing I love most about this is just how true to life it can be. Love isn’t always about grand moments of forehead-slapping revelation. I like to think that we’re in love with everyone from the beginning, and sometimes it’s just a matter of all the right incidents lining up. Kismet, if you will.
Now, if you can believe it, the movie version of A Walk to Remember is a rare exception to “the book is always better than the movie” rule, because I actually like this version (starring Mandy Moore and Shane West, directed by Adam Shankman) better than the book. In the movie, I think Jamie is given a bit more permission to be a teenager – she’s still pious and still has faith, but she’s not quite as ‘holier than thou’ as the Jamie in the book, and she has moments of crises of faith. In addition, I will say this only once – HOW DAMN CUTE IS SHANE WEST, FOR REAL?! It may be shallow, but damn if that wasn’t the thing that kept me running back to the theater and dropping all of my allowance money when this one hit the theaters.
I also liked the movie a bit more because the ending was a little less…intense than the ending of the book. In the book, because of Jamie’s disease, she gets to be incredibly sick and incredibly frail, to the point that even physical descriptions of her call to mind the pallor of illness and inevitable death. It’s part of what makes things so sad. But in the movie, while Jamie does make progressions to illness, she avoids things like wheelchairs and 24/7 nurse care (there is one particular scene in the book where Jamie is described as being fed through a tube which, thank God, was left out of the movie because, let’s be honest, it’s kind of creepy) and manages to be sick with dignity. While not true to the book, I felt that it gave the story the chance to focus on what really matters: not that Jamie is sick (although this is important!) but that Jamie’s sickness and, more importantly, life, has this huge effect on Landon.
All in all, while I knew both well enough to know that I liked the movie better, you just can’t be a wonderful Nicholas Sparks book to make you feel a bit better in the bookish soul! This one will go towards the Read the Book, See the Movie challenge, and I think I’m going to really, really enjoy getting to do more comparison reviews! Upcoming? “Nerdgasm: Vol. 1″, “Word Wanderlust: Vol. 1″ and a review of The Lexus and the Olive Tree. Happy reading!