Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks--This Book-to-Movie now out in DVD & Blu-ray!

Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

" The romantics would call this a love story: the cynics would call it a tragedy. In my mind it's a little bit of both, and no matter how you choose to view it in the end, it does not change the fact that it involves a great deal of my life."
--Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook.

    As The Notebook, opens, we see a beautiful older couple, now at the twilight of their lives. The husband sits and reads to his wife from a notebook filled with memories of their lives together. He reads to her to remind her of events lost due to her Alzheimer's disease. [2]

     He reads to Allie from her notebook about Allie's first love and an enchanted summer of love. The story continues as Allie and her love are forced apart because Allie's family disapproves of the young man, Noah, and because of "socio-economic realities." As they separate, Noah writes many letters to Allie, but none of them are answered, so in a final letter to her he professes his undying love and decides to escape her ghost and leave. Eventually, Noah, like so many young men of the era, find themselves soldiers in a horrific war (WWII.). 

     After the war ends, Noah returns home to settle down and he begins restoring an old farmhouse. A local paper publishes an article about Noah's efforts to save and restore the old farmhouse, and Allie sees it, and though it is now 14 years since the two parted, she reunites with Noah and they spend two wonderful days catching up. Allie is now faced with a life-changing decision: will she marry her fiance or return to Noah?

     The reader understands that the notebook is comprised of Allie's remembrances of her love, so we know the old woman in the bed is Allie. But which of the two men that Allie loved is reading to her--which man did she choose? Her fiance or Noah? [2]

     Nicholas Sparks has written a number of contemporary love stories, The Notebook, is but one. Sparks, well-known for writing the popular romantic novels, one of which we will be  looking at, today, has had success in having many of his books brought to the big screen. The novel I am reviewing, today, The Best of Me, is one of those. The Best of Me comes to theaters on October 17, 2014. Let's begin by taking a look at the synopsis of the book.

     Amanda Collier and Dawson Cole, high school students living in a small town, Oriental, North Carolina, fall in love during the spring semester, 1984. They find love, hope, and comfort with each other. Because Amanda is from a well-to-do family, her parents disapprove of Dawson. That, and the fact that the Cole's have a bad reputation in the area for criminal activity, fighting and violence, mean the Collier's don't want their beautiful daughter around the Coles.

     When senior year arrives the Collier's give Amanda an ultimatum to leave Dawson, or they won't support her through college. Dawson, not having a job and living in a friend's, Tuck Hostetler's, garage realizes he can't support Amanda and doesn't want to take college away from her. So, he says goodbye to Amanda and she goes away to college. Eventually, Dawson gets a job working on an oil rig out of state; he lives a solitary life and can't even bring himself to date. Amanda falls in love with Frank, a Dentist, and marries him, having three children. Amanda and Dawson each live their separate lives and the years pass.

     Twenty-five years after the two young lovers separate, their friend and mentor, Tuck, passes away. Dawson and Amanda come back for the funeral, and quite naturally, run into each other. Now the two are forced to confront the decision they made so long ago, and reconsider where they are in in life, their dreams, and responsibilities. Can the two overcome their past history, past mistakes, and change the paths on which they find themselves? The two confront these decisions and their past memories, all the while completing the instructions Tuck left for them upon his passing. Now, comes the hard part--deciding what to do.    

     The relationship Amanda has with her mother is a bit complicated. Never having liked Dawson, Amanda's mom has constantly criticized Amanda and her choices. I like this quote because it is part of a dialog where the two are having it out about a number of things. Let's take a look at the quote.
[Mother] 'You made the decision, not I, and every decision has consequences. You need to learn to take responsibility for the choices you make.' [Amanda] 'You don't think I know that?' Amanda felt herself flush...She chose her next words carefully, 'I don't think it's a good idea to talk about this.' [Mother] 'I think it is,' her mother responded. [Amanda] 'Because I didn't tell you about Tuck?' [Mother] 'No,...[b]ecause I think it has something to do with the problems you're having with Frank....But if I were you, I'd think about what you really want, because when you get back home, you're going to have to make some decisions about your marriage. In the end, it's either going to work or it isn't. And a big part of that is up to you" (pp. 145-147). 
     While this quote is only part of the discussion that Amanda and her mom have, it really is central to the overall argument. Amanda feels misunderstood and, obviously, harshly judged. Amanda's mother think's Amanda's relationship with salt-of-the-earth Tuck is more about her past relationship with Dawson than with Tuck and the problems Amanda is having in her marriage with Frank. I can't tell you too much more about the argument without giving away some important things about the book. But just know, that this argument, at least, in part, aids Amanda in confronting her feelings about life, in general, her path, her responsibilities, and even her children. It is a very powerful discussion between the two women.

     As I mentioned, above, the book-to-movie comes to the big screen 10-17-14. For fans of Nicholas Sparks, I know you will be looking forward to this new movie. I have the trailer for the movie, so let's take a look at it and get a glimpse of the upcoming movie: [7]


Paul Walker was originally
cast to play Dawson. [9]
     Directing the movie is Michael Hoffman (Director of Soapdish, The Emperor's Club, and The Last Station); writing credits go to Nicholas Sparks (book), J. Mills Goodloe, Will Fetters, and Michael Hoffman (for screenplay).  In a real life tragedy, originally, the lead role of Dawson was to be filled by Paul Walker; after Paul Walker's death last fall, the role was given to James Marsden. [8] Young Dawson will be played by Luke Bracey. Liana Liberato has been cast as young Amanda, and Michelle Monaghan as the older Amanda; Frank Reynolds (Amanda's husband) will be played by Sebastian Arcelus; the Cole brothers, Abee and Ted will be played by Hunter Burke (Abee) and Rob Mello (Ted). It is presumed that Gerald McRaney will play father-figure, Tuck. [8]

     I like the book cover. It has eye-appeal with great use of color with photography vignetting on the outside edges to force the viewer to look at the very center of the image. At the center of the image we see the young Dawson and Amanda which is repeated above with the older Dawson and Amanda. This kind of repeat is always good. Also at the center of the image are the words "The Best of Me." Psychologically, the word "Best" is received in a positive way and we are subtly influenced to like the book, or at the very least, the cover. I also like the title: The Best of Me. Again, the title is a positive statement likely to be interpreted positively by the viewer/reader.

     Another thing that I like about the book is that Nicholas Sparks has an easy-going and eminently readable style of writing. Dialog is realistic and the quantity of dialog is balanced with that of the exposition. Moreover character development is good, and pacing is appropriate to the story.

Even though this chart is for a Fourth Grade
class, it is simple, and includes the basic
needed elements of "Plot." [10]
     What I really want to focus on, here, today, is what doesn't work. So, what is the biggest problem the book has? It is, definitely, the plot. So, while I acknowledge that many, many people like Nicholas Spark's stories because of the overwhelmingly emotive power he utilizes in tugging on the heartstrings, a problem does exist with plot. Let's take a look at that.

         Nicholas Sparks' story starts out happily enough, with two people in love, then comes the problem, followed by some very important events, and then the resolution of the book. So, if Sparks' story has all the elements, what's wrong with the plot? 

     I haven't read every single book Sparks has written, but enough to know that many of his novels follow the same plot. If we look at The Notebook, for example we can see the pattern: (1) Happy Times: The book starts out with two people in love, then (2) The Fly in the Ointment: If you prefer, the problems which arise [in Notebook the couple are separated by family and war]; (3) From Bad to Worse: a huge amount of time separates them and years of loneliness; (4) Can't Stop the Problem: The couple cannot prevent old age and Alzheimers from robbing Allie of her memories; (5) Catastrophy Occurs = Tragedy: Daily, Noah has to read to Allie to help her remember (she doesn't always), eventually, the story culminates in death.

Skip this paragraph if you don't want to read the spoilers.

     The Best of Me follows a similar plot arc: (1) Happy Times: The enchanted summer and time in high school when the two are together; (2) The Fly in the Ointment: Amanda's parents extort her compliance by sending her away to college, Dawson accepts the ultimatum; (3) From Bad to Worse: Dawson's family punish/ostracize Dawson and brothers attempt to kill him/Amanda has Frank's drinking problem with which to contend and then her son is horribly injured in a car crash; (4) Can't Stop the Problem: Amanda can't make Frank quit drinking, and their son needs a heart transplant or he'll die; (5) Catastrophe Occurs = Tragedy: Dawson is killed defending another person,  and his heart is transplanted into Amanda's son, so no matter what Amanda would have chosen, it is moot now--the two lovers will never be together.

     I found a wonderful post at that is humerous and infor- mative and in a very pithy manner, it lampoons Nicholas Sparks cookie-cutter plots. The post is entitled, "How to Write a Nicholas Sparks Movie."  says that (1) Start with Two Pretty White People; (2) Include an Obstacle That Makes Love Between Them Seem Impossible; (3) They Fall In Love, Anyway; (4) Throw in a disaster (see the graphic just above); and (5) Go to the Only Poster Designer You Know. The movies the author compares are: A Walk to Remember, The Notebook, and Dear John. [12]

     In any event, the plots are all one singular plot--he's changed the names to protect the innocent--No, no, no, I'm sorry, that was a TV show. As I was saying, the multiple stories are basically the same plot. Many things are similar about them even down to using "letters" as a plot device. I really don't understand why, because most people just use e-mail these days. 

     In the quote at the top of the post, Sparks poo poos anyone who calls his stories tragedies, and calls them "cynics;" he says they are love stories. If you look at the definition of tragedy, Literary Devices defines tragedy in literature as, "a series of unfortunate events by which one or more of the literary characters in the story undergo several misfortunes, which finally culminate into a disaster of 'epic proportions'. [13] Or, if you will, Tragedy as defined by Merriam's Dictionary as "a play, movie, etc., that is serious and has a sad ending (such as the death of the main character)." [14] Sparks, however, can call his work anything he wants to call it, but that does not prevent the rest of the world from using traditional definitions--which I do.  

     In conclusion, the quality of the plot is brought down because of Spark's repetitive sameness of them. Nothing new is added to his books, nor are they creative. If, you enjoy Spark's books, however, that's fine. Some people enjoy reading the same thing over and over, again. And that is OK. I, however, do not like to read the same story over and over with the names and a few minor changes thrown in as the only differences. Oh--by the way--IMDb lists the genre as "Drama and Romance." 'Nuff said about that, I guess.

     Since the MPAA Rating is PG-13 [for sexuality, violence, some drug content and brief strong language], I think we can use that as a starting place for how to recommend the book. Those readers who are young or readers who are of a sensitive nature, should consider the rating before reading the book.[17]

     For all the reasons I have given, above, I rate this book 3.0 stars out of 5. If the story were more original I would have rated it higher; as it is, with the cookie-cutter plot recycled from other books and movies, I cannot justify a higher rating, even given the other positive things I noted, above. Although it is not a great book, it is a very quick read and enjoyable if you set aside the knowledge it is like so many others. Sparks does have a good style, and readers who "love" his love stories, will undoubtedly love this one.

     Thank you for joining me this week as we got to take a look at Nicholas Sparks book-to-movie, The Best of Me. The Best of Me will appear at theaters beginning 10-17-14.  Thank you for taking the time to read my book review and the time you spent in giving my thoughts consideration. Please take a little time this week to read something you will enjoy and be kind to those around you.

Until next time...
This flower is a double white Rose of Sharon. [20]

...many happy pages of reading.

My Love to You All,


[1] "The Best of Me." [Nicholas Sparks] Retrieved 10-02-14.
[2] "The Notebook."  [Nicholas Sparks] Retrieved 10-04-14.
[3] "The Notebook (2004) Poster." Retrieved 10-04-14.
[4] "Synopsis." Retrieved 10-05-14.
[5] "How to Choose Between Two Guys." Retrieved 10-04-14.
[6] "The Question That Changed My Life." Retrieved 10-05-14.
[7] "The Best Of Me Official Trailer #2 (2014)." Retrieved 10-01-14.
[8] "The Best of Me (2014)." Retrieved 10-02-14.
[9] "Paul Walker dead at 40: 'Fast and Furious' star killed in fiery car crash." Retrieved 10-15-14.
[10] "Fabulous Fourth Grade: Anchor Charts." Retrieved 10-05-14.
[11] "Are You Bothered by Spoilers in Movie Reviews?" Retrieved 10-15-14.
[12]"How To Write a Nicholas Sparks Movie." Retrieved 10-05-14.
[13] "Tragedy." Retrieved 10-05-14.
[14] "Tragedy." [definition] Retrieved 10-05-14.
[15] "Tragedy." [graphic image] Retrieved 10-05-14.
[16] "Drama and Romance." [graphic image] Retrieved 10-05-14.
[17] "The Best of Me" [MPAA Rating] Retrieved 10-05-14.
[18] "PG-13." [MPAA Rating Graphic] Retrieved 10-05-14.
[19] "Charlie Casanova." [3 star graphic] Retrieved 10-05-14.
[20] "Pictures From My Garden." Retrieved 10-05-14.