Veronica "Ronnie" Miller is just shy of her 18th birthday, and that gap allows her mother to insist that she and her little brother, Jonah, spend the summer with the father who left them years earlier. When Ronnie arrives at her father's tiny beach house in North Carolina, she's in a funk, sure that she's about to waste an entire summer by staying with the parent she hasn't spoken to since he left. Of course, Ronnie and her mother are also out of sync these days. There's the matter of Ronnie abandoning her promising career as a pianist years ago when her parents divorced. There's also general maternal disapproval over Ronnie's friends, semi-Goth clothing and makeup, and her arrest for shoplifting.
While the story revolves around Ronnie, several characters relate their own tales. Steve, Ronnie's father, is eagerly and nervously anticipating the arrival of his children. Meanwhile, he plays his piano with emotional intensity. Once a professor at Juilliard, he quit his job when his own father died, in order to tour as a concert pianist. The touring had played havoc with his marriage and ultimately proved unsuccessful. Back home, in the town he grew up in, he is now on an emotional journey to discover his spiritual beliefs. He knows there's more to life than what he has experienced, and he suspects that being with his children will hold the key to the meaning of his life. Meanwhile, he continues his deep friendship with the pastor who taught him to play the piano as a child. Pastor Harris, who assumed a paternal role during Steve's childhood and adolescence, was injured when the church burned to the ground (a disaster that is pivotal to the plot). Steve has been constructing a replacement for the stained glass window ruined in the fire.
When Ronnie arrives at her father's, she immediately takes off, heading for a beachside festival, where Will, a handsome volleyball player, runs into her, spilling soda all over her blouse. Ronnie is already in a snit, and she is terse and irritable when Will tries to apologize to her. The next person she meets is a homeless girl named Blaze. Ronnie hopes to become friendly with Blaze, but soon finds herself surrounded by Blaze's friends, including the truly creepy Marcus, who continually plays with balls of fire and makes it plain that he would like to get very close to Ronnie. This infuriates Blaze, with dire results for Ronnie.
Meanwhile, Will keeps thinking about the girl he accidentally spilled soda on, but he has a lot more on his mind than his attraction to Ronnie. A deadly secret, one he believes he owes his friend to keep, weighs heavily upon him. He has kept this secret for a long time, but it tortures him. Unfortunately, Marcus also knows the secret --- and that knowledge can only spell trouble for Will and his buddy.
Relations between Ronnie and her father continue to be uncomfortable. While Steve works hard to be accommodating and caring (even building a temporary wall to hide his piano when Ronnie tells him she hates looking at it), Ronnie cannot bring herself to forgive him for abandoning her and her brother. Jonas is much more easily won over, but Ronnie thaws a bit when she discovers something truly amazing on the beach. Her father shares her awe, and her discovery brings Will into her life again.
As the characters' lives braid together, secrets are uncovered. While a few of the subplots in Nicholas Sparks’s latest novel follow predictable paths, readers are likely to identify with the hopes and dreams of Ronnie and her father as they find their way to reconciliation and redemption. The North Carolina beach is a vibrant backdrop to this story of love between romantic partners and between family members --- a tale that very effectively stirs the emotions.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on September 8, 2009
The Last Song