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Dear John (Sparks)

Dear John 
Nicholas Sparks, 2006
Grand Central Publishing
ISBN-13: 9780446567336

An angry rebel, John dropped out of school and enlisted in the Army, not knowing what else to do with his life—until he meets the girl of his dreams, Savannah. Their mutual attraction quickly grows into the kind of love that leaves Savannah waiting for John to finish his tour of duty, and John wanting to settle down with the woman who captured his heart.

But 9/11 changes everything. John feels it is his duty to re-enlist. And sadly, the long separation finds Savannah falling in love with someone else. "Dear John," the letter read...and with those two words, a heart was broken and two lives were changed forever. Returning home, John must come to grips with the fact that Savannah, now married, is still his true love—and face the hardest decision of his life. (From the publisher.)

About the Author
Birth—December 31. 1965
Where—Omaha, Nebraska, USA
Education—B.A., University of Notre Dame
Currently—lives in New Bern, North Carolina

Ever since The Notebook made Nicholas Sparks a word-of-mouth publishing sensation in 1996, he has maintained his status as a bestselling author of tragedy-tinged love stories. His spare, simply themed novels star ordinary people overcome by extraordinary emotions, and changed by them.

It's possible that Sparks might have enjoyed his level of popularity by writing these stories strictly from imagination, but in fact his family's struggles play an important role in many of his books, especially the earliest novels. (For example The Notebook, his tale of a great love affair extending into old age, was inspired by his wife's grandparents; Message in a Bottle drew from Sparks' father's life story and A Walk to Remember from his late sister's.) In addition, a three-week trip he and his older sibling Micah undertook in 2003 became the basis for Three Weeks with My Brother, a unique memoir as moving and tenderhearted as any of his fiction.

Sparks is very methodical about his writing, an approach he makes transparent on his web site with several essays, updates on works in progress, and notes on the mechanics of his novels. Unsurprisingly, critics have faulted him for being too formulaic or cliched. Still, Sparks never fails to move his stories along quickly, maximizing emotional impact and featuring strong, down-to-earth characters. His endings also tend to depart from convention a bit, revealing tragedy where the walk into the sunset should be.

Although he is often classified as a Romance writer, Sparks is quick to point out that his books don't really satisfy the requirements of Romance publishers. Instead, he admits to writing love stories, a different genre altogether. Whatever he cares to call them, one thing's for sure: Nicholas Sparks continues to strike gold with his bittersweet novels of love and loss.

• Sparks came to his career in an unconventional way: Sidelined after a running injury at University of Notre Dame, where he had won a full track scholarship and still holds the 4x800 relay record, he decided to write a book after his mother offhandedly suggested it as a way to make him stop brooding. His first novel remains unpublished ("It's a wonderful story -- except for the writing," he wrote later), but he kept trying. He later coauthored an inspirational title called Wokini; but his third novel (The Notebook) was the charm.

• Blockbuster film adaptations of Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, and The Notebook have turned Sparks into a successful Hollywood franchise.

• Sparks' wife is probably one of the most envied wives around. She met Nicholas in college at spring break, where he informed her that they would be married. She laughed him off, but they were married just over a year later. He told Barnes & in a 1999 interview, "I suppose I'm a romantic. Ladies Home Journal has even called me the Most Romantic Husband in America. In fact, I sent my wife a dozen roses today."

• Sparks was still selling pharmaceuticals and had only just delivered the final version of The Notebook to his agent when she called, two days after receiving the manuscript, telling him she expected "something big." That something big materialized within the week: a $1 million offer from Warner Books.

• Sparks holds a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. (From Barnes & Noble.)

Book Reviews
It isn't hard to picture John Tyree. We can simply imagine his predecessors, men in uniform staring pensively from earlier wartime romances. Apart from the occasional detail—e-mail, cellphone, Outback Steakhouse—Dear John could take place in any modern American era. For Sparks, weighty matters of the day remain set pieces, furniture upon which to hang timeless tales of chaste longing and harsh fate. Only in a novel such as this could we find our political buzzwords—peacekeeping, IEDs, hurricane relief—interspersed with these sentiments: "And when her lips met mine, I knew that I could live to be a hundred and visit every country in the world, but nothing would ever compare to that single moment when I first kissed the girl of my dreams and knew that my love would last forever."
Margaux Wexburg Sanchez - Washington Post

Hot on the heels of True Believer and sequel At First Sight, Sparks returns with the story of ne'er-do-well-turned-army-enlistee John Tyree, 23, and well-to-do University of North Carolina special education major Savannah Lynn Curtis. John, who narrates, has been raised by a socially backward single postal-worker dad obsessed with coin collecting (he has Asperger's syndrome). John bypasses college for the overseas infantry; Savannah spends her college summers volunteering. When they meet, he's on leave, and she's working with Habitat for Humanity (he rescues her sinking purse at the beach). John has a history of one-night stands; Savannah's a virgin. He's an on-and-off drinker; she's a teetotaler. Attraction and values conflict the rest of the summer, but the deal does not close. Savannah longs for John to come home; her friend Tim longs to have a relationship with her. On the brink of John and Savannah's finally getting together, 9/11 happens, and John re-ups. Savannah's letters come less and less frequently, and before you know it, he receives the expected "Dear John" letter. Sparks's novel brims with longing.
Publishers Weekly

Sparks, a perennially popular novelist whose name is synonymous with romance and bittersweet endings and whose work translates so readily to movies, lives up to his reputation with his latest novel, a tribute to courageous and self-sacrificing soldiers. —Patty Engelmann

Discussion Questions 
1. In the first sentence of the prologue, John asks: "What does it mean to truly love another?" How does John’s answer to this question change over the course of the novel? How would you answer this question?

2. Savannah and John meet when John is on a furlough from the military and they fall deeply in love after only a few days. Is their love believable? Do you think it is possible to have such an intense connection with someone you’ve only just met?

3. Trying to explain her interest in John’s dad’s coin collection, Savannah says, "The saddest people I’ve ever met in life are the ones who don’t care deeply about anything at all. Passion and satisfaction go hand in hand." Do you agree with Savannah? Do you think John’s father is a satisfied man?

4. Why does John get so angry when Savannah suggests what she does about his father and how, in the end, does this revelation change John’s life and his relationship with his father?

5. Savannah is described by both herself and Tim as being somewhat naïve. Do you think Savannah is naïve? Why or why not?

6. When John goes back to Germany after his furlough, he and Savannah vow to stay in touch and to marry when he returns. Do you think it’s possible to stay in love with someone without seeing them for months or years at a time? How does being apart affect Savannah and John’s relationship?

7. John eagerly awaits his discharge from the military so he can begin a life with Savannah, but John also has a deep sense of duty and loyalty to his country and fellow soldiers. After September 11, John makes a decision that will change his life and Savannah’s life forever. Do you think John made the right decision? Does Savannah think he made the right decision? Given the outcome, do you think John regrets his decision?

8. Do you think Savannah should have waited for John to come home or do you think it was understandable that she moved on with her life?

9. After fighting in the war in Iraq, John has a hard time telling people about his experience there. Instead, when asked what it was like, he responds with a harmless anecdote about the sand because doing so “kept the war at a safe distance” for other people. What does John mean by this? In what ways does the Iraq War change John and what are his feelings about his role in the war?

10. After John’s father dies, he goes to visit Savannah. How has their relationship changed at this point? Is Savannah different from who she was in the beginning of the novel? Do you think Savannah is still in love with John?

11. How do you think John views Tim, and how do his perceptions change by the end of the novel?

12. What do you make of John’s actions at the very end of the novel? Would you have done what he did if you were in his position?

13. How do you interpret the novel’s ending? How do you imagine John’s future?
(Questions issued by publishers.)

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