Nicholas Sparks’s latest novel, DEAR JOHN, currently is atop the New York Times bestseller list, and for good reason. Sparks writes human emotion with empathy and deals with life-changing subjects that corral the reader's interest. Love between unlikely couples is the magnet that ignites one to read on.
John Tyree is a product of the port city of Wilmington, North Carolina. Iced with pretentious summer vacation homes, the beaches invite visitors and homegrown youth to the finest in water sport. John had enlisted in the army after high school, not knowing exactly what he wanted to do with his life. Now on leave from his Army tour in Germany, he enjoys the return to surfing along the beach. It is here that he retrieves a young lady's bag that has dropped into the deep waters, an incident that changes his life forever.
Savannah Lynn Curtis, a college student on a summer mission for Habitat for Humanity, is staying in one of the rental vacation mansions with her work group. She and John both grew up in country locations, though their family backgrounds are radically different. Savannah's world is energetic and socially broad, but she approaches John's quiet and remote relationship with his father with genuine intent and insists that they meet.
Wary of the outcome, John succumbs. He engages in little real conversation with his father, who is obsessed with coin collecting and seems unable to talk about much else. Savannah reacts to the situation by offering John a book on autism that she thinks will help him better understand his father’s behavior. John is hurt by the interference, and feels that Savannah is intruding. He brushes her thoughts aside and instead enjoys their time together realizing how much she is filling in his life.
Unfortunately, John's leave ends and his return to Germany puts their friendship on hold.
"Dear John, Should I start by telling you that I love you...If you come back, I'll marry you …Love, Savannah."
John reads these words on his plane ride to Germany and can think of nothing but going back to North Carolina. He is given that chance when he returns home on leave in 2001. Their days together are glorious, as John meets Savannah's family, spends time at her college with friends and engages in a whirlwind of social activity. Savannah vows to wait for John as he finishes his tour of duty, and John realizes that he is ready to settle down with his one true love.
But then the tragic events of September 11, 2001 unfold. Like a vise, that fateful day squeezes John's dreams for love and the future he was anticipating. Faced with an incredibly difficult choice, the stoic soldier returns to duty as he fights for his country. At the same time, he leaves Savannah with a tough decision as well: Should she wait for him, or move on?
Sparks leads John's squadron into Kosovo, Kuwait and eventually 100 miles into Iraq. But this is not a military saga; rather, it is a soldier's story set in wartime. A second Dear John letter from Savannah severs his hope for a future together. However, he seeks her out when he is home on leave following his father's death where many surprises await him.
John's return from overseas --- drained by battles he's endured on professional and personal levels --- climaxes the narrative. Savannah’s insight has opened John to possibilities outside himself; through her, he realizes the opportunity he’s been given by his father. Sparks ends the book on an emotional positive. His message is that, though harsh and complex, love transforms us forever.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on August 7, 2007