Ok so Dear John is my first Nicholas Sparks novel. I know he’s written a plethora of books that have been turned into tearjerker movies (see A Walk To Remember, The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe, The Last Song, and of course, this one, Dear John). I only really bought the book because it was ridiculously cheap on Booktopia, an Aussie based online bookstore. And I can’t resist a $3 book, no matter what it is.
Dear John is the story of John, a deadbeat, going no where post-highschool guy who joins the Army, not the Marines, because as he puts it ’the Marine guy was on his lunch break when I went there and the Army guy was not’. After several years in the Army, he’s at home on leave over the summer when he meets and falls in love with Savannah Curtis, who’s spending the summer by the beach building houses for the homeless. Their romance is a short one, but intense, before John has to go back to duty. They write passionate letters to each other, dreaming of their future. John is almost out of the Army and their dreams can become reality when the unthinkable happens. September 11, 2001. John signs up again (“re-upping”) and Savannah, although proud that he wants to represent his country, is shattered that their future is pushed further away. Her letters become distant and less frequent. Until one day, John receives his very own ‘Dear John’ letter. Woven into the love story of John and Savannah, is the tale of John and his father. When John’s father dies, he is granted compassionate leave to come home and arrange things. After the funeral, he finds himself visiting Savannah, learning the choices she has made and what caused her to make them.
The first thing about Dear John, is that it’s a romance novel, written in the first person from the male’s perspective. I found that a very interesting choice that I think worked on some levels, but didn’t work on others. It worked for me because I have never read such a book from the male’s point of view before. It was refreshing to have the man’s inner dialogue and I have to say, I enjoyed John as a character. He wasn’t flawless, and he readily admitted his flaws, both as a youth/adolescent and as a man. But because everything was from John’s point of view, I didn’t feel Savannah was as fleshed out as she could’ve been. She almost came off a bit like a Mary Sue at first, being attractive, able to surf immediately, doing a special ed degree, building houses for the homeless on her summer break. She didn’t drink, went to church, etc! It was almost like she was a little -too- good to be true. And because the book remains from John’s point of view all throughout the events that occur, I found it hard to get behind Savannah as a character and the decisions she made. Maybe we’re not supposed to care two hoots from her and all our liking is supposed to go to John – well if that’s the case then I wouldn’t want him to end up with Savannah anyway, because I just did not care about her. If Sparks had wanted me to care about her at all, the point of view should’ve been switched to Savannah’s partway through the book when John re-upped his service. If I could’ve seen that from her point of view, I may’ve been more sympathetic and understanding of the choices she made. Instead they just seemed childish and like she was settling.
Almost, if not more interesting than the love story, is the story of John and his father. John was raised by his father alone, a quiet, socially awkward man passionate about one thing in life – collecting coins. John remembers travelling near and far as a child, chasing and purchasing coins. Coins are the only thing his father is comfortable talking about, but eventually John grows older and less interested in the coins, and less patient for his fathers passion for them. They row and his father never mentions coins to him again. They live their life by strict routine with minimal conversation. You suspect what might be wrong with John’s father even before it is brought up in the book and the revelation causes some fireworks. I think some of the best bits in the book are scenes between or about John and his father and his declining health and the descriptions of that, really touched me. That part of the novel is beautifully written and you can see that Sparks, despite his tendency to cookie cutter or ‘phone it in’ in some of the romance moments, can really bang out a story and hit so well on a relationship. There were some lovely and some heartbreaking moments and I may or may not have been moved to tears on one or perhaps two occasions.
I won’t spoil the ending for anyone who may be reading or who will read in the future, but I feel that it wasn’t very satisfying. I like satisfying ending, I’m not one of those people who can be happy when a book has no ending, or no closure. I don’t necessarily need a happy ending, but I like a clear and definitive ending where I can be sure all the characters stories were wrapped up. I didn’t feel this was the case with Dear John and that disappointed me just a little.
Overall though I quite enjoyed the book. A lot more than I thought I would.
7 out of 10
(Book #24 for my 50 Book Challenge for 2010)