Tuesday, November 10, 2009

In Which Trai Reviews 'Dear John'

Yet again, two delayed reviews.

The Book: Dear John

The Author: Nicholas Sparks

How I Found It: Saw it in a lot of bargain-book piles and thought the premise sounded good. Movie trailer reminded me I had it sitting in my TBR pile.

The Review: I read The Notebook earlier this year mostly because I wanted to know what the hype was about, and because I was curious about the movie, since I really like Rachel McAdams.

So I read it. And it was "ehh." You could tell it was a first novel-- I know it was supposed to be the story of Noah and Allie and nothing else, but seriously, Lon and Allie's mother felt like freaking wallpaper. They had no purpose other than to scream, "WE ARE HERE TO PROVIDE CONFLICT IN THE PLOT!"

Also, as I've said before, I felt the movie wasn't all that great and poorly acted. I don't understand the praise for all the dramatic scenes-- it just seemed melodramatic, period, to me.

Anyway, enough bitching about how this isn't going to be a glowing "I LOVED THE NOTEBOOK NICHOLAS SPARKS IS GOD" review.

That being said, I really liked Dear John a whole lot. It was depressing as hell, but it packed more of an emotional punch than The Notebook did, at least for me. I cared more about John than I did about Noah, and had the mixed feelings for Savannah that Sparks probably intended, or at least I hope he did. I still think he has issues with secondary characters-- Tim can join Lon as "secondary love interest wallpaper"-- but again, it's basically a two-person story and I could forgive it.

The story: John Tyree was a rebel who decided his life was going nowhere and joined the Army to get himself straightened out. His relationship with his father, whose world revolves around coin collecting, had become strained, and he felt he had few other options.

The Army is good for him-- he quits his bad habits and finds that he is good with the jobs the Army requires him to do. When he returns home for a brief leave, it is to a world his reformed self no longer belongs in.

He first meets Savannah Lynn Curtis when her purse with all her money falls into the ocean at the beach, and he rescues it for her. They strike up a friendship built on conversations and surfing lessons, and the relationship quickly grows into love.

They're about as opposite can be, but John promises to marry Savannah once his tour is over. Savannah promises to stay faithful, but as John's tour is about to end, 9/11 tears apart the world and John re-enlists. Savannah supports his decision with mixed feelings, and eventually sends him the "Dear John" letter with the devastating news she has found someone else, leaving John lost. Adrift from his father and with the love of his life gone, where else does he have to turn but the Army?

There's more to the story, but it's too much to get into here. The plot sounds cliche, but Sparks did things with it I wasn't expecting, especially the resolution between the sort of triangle formed between John, Savannah, and her husband (no spoilers here). Maybe it felt like hand-waving, but it was nicely done and I hadn't been expecting it.

The subplot with John's father was also touching and sad, and it made me cry more than The Notebook (the book; the movie didn't make me cry at all) did. I suppose at this stage of my life it's easier for me to connect to something involving a parent than a longtime spouse. Whatever the case, it was nicely handled and I liked seeing how John gradually learned to accept his father for what he was.

Watching the trailer, I see what looks like differences between the novel and the movie, and I'm hoping they don't take the Hollywood route like they did with The Notebook, punching up the drama and everything, and I'm worried they'll change the ending. Whatever the case, I think I'll like to see how they do it.

I did have a gripe with the book that bothers me whenever I encounter it. Can't a character choose to be a virgin/wait for the right person without some kind of sex-related trauma in his/her past? It bugs the hell out of me that Sparks took that route.

I really did think the book was emotional, well-done, and had two strong, well-drawn lead characters, and I'm at least curious to see the movie version. Liking this one so much led me to purchase The Lucky One, Sparks' other book with a sort of military theme, and I'll read that one sometime soon.

Recommended to someone looking for romantic fiction with a bit of emotional release involved.

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