Nicholas Sparks, 2012
Grand Central Publishing
When a mysterious young woman named Katie appears in the small North Carolina town of Southport, her sudden arrival raises questions about her past.
Beautiful yet self-effacing, Katie seems determined to avoid forming personal ties until a series of events draws her into two reluctant relationships: one with Alex, a widowed store owner with a kind heart and two young children; and another with her plainspoken single neighbor, Jo. Despite her reservations, Katie slowly begins to let down her guard, putting down roots in the close-knit community and becoming increasingly attached to Alex and his family.
But even as Katie begins to fall in love, she struggles with the dark secret that still haunts and terrifies her...a past that set her on a fearful, shattering journey across the country, to the sheltered oasis of Southport. With Jo's empathic and stubborn support, Katie eventually realizes that she must choose between a life of transient safety and one of riskier rewards...and that in the darkest hour, love is the only true safe haven. (From the publisher.)
• Birth—December 31. 1965
• Where—Omaha, Nebraska, USA
• Education—B.A., University of Notre Dame
• Currently—lives in New Bern, North Carolina
Nicholas Charles Sparks is an American novelist, screenwriter and producer. He has published some 20 novels, plus one non-fiction. Ten have been adapted to films, including Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John, The Last Song, The Lucky One, and most recently The Longest Ride.
Sparks was born to Patrick Michael Sparks, a professor of business, and Jill Emma Marie Sparks (nee Thoene), a homemaker and an optometrist's assistant. He was the middle of three children, with an older brother and a younger sister, "Dana", who died at the age of 33 from a brain tumor. Sparks said that she is the inspiration for the main character in his novel A Walk to Remember.
His father was pursuing graduate studies at University of Minnesota and University of Southern California, and the family moved a great deal, so by the time Sparks was eight, he had lived in Watertown, Minnesota, Inglewood, California, Playa del Rey, California, and Grand Island, Nebraska, which was his mother's hometown during his parents' one year separation.
In 1974 his father became a professor of business at California State University, Sacramento teaching behavioral theory and management. His family settled in Fair Oaks, California, and remained there through Nicholas's high school days. He graduated in 1984 as valedictorian from Bella Vista High School, then enrolled at the University of Notre Dame under a full track and field scholarship. In his freshman year, his team set a record for the 4 x 800 relay.
Sparks majored in business finance and graduated from Notre Dame with honors in 1988. He also met his future wife that year, Cathy Cote from New Hampshire, while they were both on spring break. They married in 1989 and moved to New Bern, North Carolina.
While still in school in 1985, Sparks penned his first (never published) novel, The Passing, while home for the summer between freshman and sophomore years at Notre Dame. He wrote another novel in 1989, also unpublished, The Royal Murders.
After college, Sparks sought work with publishers or to attend law school, but was rejected in both attempts. He then spent the next three years trying other careers, including real estate appraisal, waiting tables, selling dental products by phone and starting his own manufacturing business.
In 1990, Sparks co-wrote with Billy Mills Wokini: A Lakota Journey to Happiness and Self-Understanding. The book was published by Random House sold 50,000 copies in its first year.
In 1992, Sparks began selling pharmaceuticals and in 1993 was transferred to Washington, DC. It was there that he wrote another novel in his spare time, The Notebook. Two years later, he was discovered by literary agent Theresa Park, who picked The Notebook out of her agency's slush pile, liked it, and offered to represent him. In October 1995, Park secured a $1 million advance for The Notebook from Time Warner Book Group. The novel was published in 1996 and made the New York Times best-seller list in its first week of release.
With the success of his first novel, he and Cathy moved to New Bern, NC. After his first publishing success, he began writing his string of international bestsellers.
Personal life and philanthropy
Sparks continues to reside in North Carolina with his wife Cathy, their three sons, and twin daughters. A Roman Catholic since birth, he and his wife are raising their children in the Catholic faith.
In 2008, Entertainment Weekly reported that Sparks and his wife had donated "close to $10 million" to start a private Christian college-prep school, The Epiphany School of Global Studies, which emphasizes travel and lifelong learning.
Sparks also donated $900,000 for a new all-weather tartan track to New Bern High School. He also donates his time to help coach the New Bern High School track team and a local club track team as a volunteer head coach.
In addition to track, he funds scholarships, internships and annual fellowship to the Creative Writing Program (MFA) at the University of Notre Dame. (Adapted from Wikipedia.)
When Katie turns up in Southport, N.C., her presence in the small town and determination to keep to herself raises questions. But when events beyond her control force Katie to open up—and she begins to fall in love—she must come to grips with a dark secret from her past. Narrator Rebecca Lowman captures the essence of Sparks' novel and creates numerous voices and dialects for his characters, including the smooth Southern drawl of Katie's mysterious neighbor and sisterly confidant Jo, as well as the New England accent of Katie's estranged husband Kevin. Lowman also does her best to keep Katie from descending into movie-of-the week victimhood, particularly as the heroine enters into a budding romance with widower storekeeper Alex.
A young woman with secrets finds home, community and a potential new love in a small North Carolina beach town; now if she can only rid herself of a past that haunts her, she may just have the life she's always longed for. No one in Southport, N.C., seems too concerned with the fact that Katie wants to keep to herself, even if it is a small town, and she's a mysterious, pretty woman. But since there's only one attractive, eligible man in the whole town--Alex, the widowed owner of the town's general store--then it only makes sense that the two would notice each other. Throw in a couple of events that allow Katie to show herself as a woman of character (despite her secretive ways) and Alex to represent a perfect man, and of course, the two of them will wind up on the path to true love. Especially since she's great with kids, and he just happens to have two of them, to whom he is a gentle, wonderful father with the patience of a saint. But, alas, Katie is a woman with secrets, and that generally means that there is someone out there looking for her. Since Katie lives in a tiny, isolated shack in the middle of nowhere, it's a good thing she likes her quirky new neighbor, Jo. Jo encourages her to become more invested in Alex, who, everyone knows, is a good man. Romance progresses. A haunting past life catches up with Katie with frightening consequences. Love prevails. An emotionally wrenching story with a dramatic happily-ever-after.
1. When Alex first meets Katie, he senses that she is in trouble. How does he figure out what has happened to her?
2. What is the nature of Jo and Katie’s relationship? How does Jo help Katie adjust to her life in Southport?
3. Katie and Alex fall in love very quickly. What draws them together? Have you ever fallen in love so quickly? If not, do you think it’s possible?
4. On their first date, Alex says to Katie: “Everyone has a past, but that’s just it—t’s in the past. You can learn from it, but you can’t change it.” Do you agree with him? Is it possible to truly put the past behind you?
5. Alex is a widower who has had to raise two children on his own. How has he dealt with his grief in the years since his wife passed away? Have you experienced grief of this magnitude in your own life? How did you handle it?
6. When Katie tells Alex about Kevin she says: “I hate him, but I hate myself, too.” Why does she feel this way? How does Katie change as she spends more and more time in Southport? How is she different by the end of the book?
7. Despite his violent behavior and his incessant drinking, Kevin quotes the Bible constantly and takes the Ten Commandments seriously. How do you understand his behavior?
8. Katie’s past puts Alex and his family in potential danger. Do you think it was irresponsible of Alex to involve himself with a woman he knew could endanger him and his children?
9. Why do you think the author chose to write a portion of the book from Kevin’s perspective. Do you have any sympathy for Kevin? Why or why not?
10. Did reading this book give you a new or better understanding of domestic abuse?
11. At the end of the novel, Alex tells Katie he is sorry for her loss. What does he mean by this? How does Katie react?
12. What do you make of Katie’s discovery at the end of the novel? Do you find the book’s ending believable?
13. This novel is in large part about safety and trust and how we often take these two things for granted. Did this book make you think differently about your own life and the things you value?
(Questions from the author's website.)
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