In TRUE BELIEVER, journalist Jeremy Marsh spends his time debunking the supernatural. He has just finished exposing a fake television psychic, proving that the man was not able to read people's minds or see into their pasts. When he hears about a phenomenon happening in the small town of Boone Creek in North Carolina, where ghosts are seen inhabiting a local cemetery, Jeremy knows he will be able to find the truth behind the lights that are seen glimmering on certain nights above the cemetery grounds. He knows that ghosts do not truly exist.
When Jeremy arrives in Boone Creek, he experiences what small town life is all about. He's from the big city and feels like he's walked into a time warp. Everyone knows everyone, and gossip spreads like wildfire. His "hotel" is a hole-in-the-wall motel, filled with dead animals ranging from a bear to snakes and all sorts of wonderful critters that can be found in the wild. He's as far from New York as he can get, and he's not sure he likes it.
The very day he arrives in town, Jeremy makes a quick visit to Cedar Creek Cemetery, where the ghosts are reported to have been seen, when he notices a young woman there who catches his eye. He later finds out that her name is Lexie Darnell. Neither of them knows it but soon their lives will be changed forever. Lexie is the granddaughter of the woman who had invited him to visit the town. Doris Marsh is the town psychic.
As Jeremy slowly does his research in the library where Lexie happens to work, he gets to know her. Despite what he feels about the town, he finds himself interested in this woman who doesn't seem to want anything to do with him.
Having read nearly every Nicholas Sparks book that has been written, it is safe to say that TRUE BELIEVER is quite the departure from his previous works. While Sparks tends to write tragedies as opposed to true romances, this novel is far from the tragedy that some of his other fiction books have been.
This is not to say that TRUE BELIEVER wasn't enjoyable. But fans who are looking for the typical Nicholas Sparks book will not find it here. Instead of concentrating on the romance, this reviewer found the focus of the novel to be on the mystery behind the cemetery, and the high point of the plot was Jeremy's answer to the story behind the ghosts. The fact that Jeremy is dating a woman who believes her parents' ghosts have come to her in the cemetery makes the reader anxious to know what he finds, realizing that the answer will greatly impact the relationship that is central to the love story.
One aspect of storytelling in which Sparks excels is his ability to create the characters who populate his books. His capacity to bring into being likeable, everyday people helps make this novel readable. The strength of the story isn't necessarily the plot, and the romance that is found here is not one that a typical romance reader might expect. For this reader, the characters were the highlight of the novel, and the process of getting to know some of the more prominent ones was a delight. One will find oneself chuckling over some of the antics of the townspeople. The brouhaha that the people make over Jeremy's celebrity is very cute, if not humorous.
Overall, the plotlines are balanced between the mystery of the cemetery, Jeremy and Lexie's relationship, the aspect of small-town living, and the individual life stories of the two protagonists. Focusing on the individual characters is just one way of truly enjoying this book. It's a soothing type of read, and readers will feel comfortable with these characters.
On that note, TRUE BELIEVER comes recommended. However, newcomers to Sparks should not think that this novel is characteristic of the type of writing that has popularized him over the years. His forte lies in the tragedy, and to read THE NOTEBOOK or MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE --- two of this reader's favorites --- is a must.
Reviewed by Marie Hashima Lofton on April 12, 2005