It was pure happenstance that I read Nicholas Sparks latest novel, The Last Song. As I perused the book rack on a recent shopping trip I noticed the book and made an impulse buy. I’ve seen a handful of the movies based on Sparks’ work and I read The Notebook fifteen years ago when it first came out. I know that Sparks is a devout Catholic who writes relatively clean books. He also occasionally works in Christian themes, as in the novel A Walk to Remember.
As I did some research after purchasing the book, I learned the novel is actually based on a screenplay that Sparks also wrote. Furthermore I learned the movie version of The Last Song was conceived as a vehicle project for Disney star Miley Cyrus, whom I do not especially care for. Add to that the fact that the back cover says the novel is in the tradition of A Walk to Remember and I thought “Great! I just bought a tie in book for a Hannah Montana-driven teen romance where someone is going to die.”
I was then pleasantly surprised at how good The Last Song turned out to be.
The story focuses on seventeen year old Ronnie who hasn’t spoken to her father Steve, since he divorced her mother three years earlier. She’s entered a rebellious phase and though she’s a musical prodigy she has stopped playing the piano because it reminds her of her father and the bond they share through music.
The summer before she turns eighteen she and her ten year old brother go to spend the summer with Steve in the beachside southern town he grew up in.
Initially Ronnie is at odds with everyone and everything until circumstances force her to reconnect with her father. She meets Will, whom she initially dislikes but soon the two fall head over heels for each other. The story contained no true surprises, I guessed most of the ending well before I got there, and several predictable plot elements exist. Will and Ronnie are from different worlds, and that creates strife in their relationship. This comes through Will’s conniving ex-girlfriend and his friends and family who think Ronnie isn’t good enough. Nothing new there, we’ve seen it before.
The story is touching and deals with a person’s relationship with God, though there isn’t necessarily a salvation message. There are a few mild profanities (d*mn and h*ll) but the number of times the words appear can be counted on one hand.
While there isn’t any sex, I do have a couple of concerns with how the book tackles this subject. Ronnie is described by those around her as beautiful, though she herself is seemingly unaware of it. To this end one character is trying to get to know Ronnie with the purpose of sleeping with her. Ronnie herself doesn’t smoke, drink, do drugs, or have sex, though she is friends with people who do. At one point in the story, (here there be spoilers) she and Will finally decide to go ahead and sleep with each other and are on their way to do so when they are interrupted and it never happens. It becomes clear here, and in Sparks’ other books, that sex before marriage is not considered taboo. On this point and the profanity I take issue.
That said, The Last Song was thought-provoking and moving. The subject of Ronnie and Steve’s faith is an integral part of the story. While a direct “salvation” scenario doesn’t appear, Steve is earnestly seeking the presence of God and Ronnie observes what she comes to understand as the working of the Holy Spirit in her father’s life.
Overall despite a few flaws, The Last Song was a worthwhile read.
I don’t know how good the movie will be, but if it is as good as the book, then it is surely something not to be missed.
Update: Well I saw the movie, and was utterly disappointed. The film strips the book down to the barest bones and strings the events and characters together with little depth and a bad script. I gather that Sparks orginal script was altered, and the changes simply don't make sense. Furthermore the elements of faith are completely removed.
The romance between Ronnie and Will is so unlikely and contrived that I literally rolled my eyes when they shared their first kiss. The first half of the movie is a string of bad cliche's and unbelievable banter between Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth. Neither seem to be very good actors though their performances improve as the film progresses. Miley seems to be paying Hannah Montana in rebellion rather than a unique character. The whole thing just feels akward until the midpoint when things become less painful, but having read and loved the book I was almost angry at how wretched the movie ended up being.