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Dear John

A book review for parents

This romance novel by Nicholas Sparks is published by Warner Books, a division of the Hachette Book Group USA, and is written for adults. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Weary of alcohol, meaningless relationships and a lack of direction, John Tyree joins the Army. He’s on leave for a few weeks in his hometown of Wilmington, N.C., when he meets Savannah Lynn Curtis on a beach. Savannah, a college student, is leading a group of coeds in building Habitat for Humanity homes. She and her group have rented a beach house to use during their stay. John and Savannah hail from different backgrounds: Savannah grew up in a Christian home with two devoted parents, while John was raised by a quiet, meticulous father with a passion for coin collecting. Nevertheless, they feel an instant connection and begin to spend every free moment together. By the end of John’s leave, the two have fallen in love and promise to be married when he’s discharged. Meanwhile, they will write.

The novel follows the ups and downs of their long-distance relationship, including their joyful moments and arguments during John’s short Army leaves. When John’s time in the army is nearly complete, September 11 rocks the nation, and he decides it is his patriotic duty to re-enlist. Savannah understands but can’t hide her disappointment. Time and distance begin to take their toll, and Savannah sends John a letter saying she’s in love with someone else.

John tries to deal with his emotions by burying himself in his military career, and he spends his leaves with his ailing father. When Savannah met John’s dad years earlier, she suggested he might have Asperger’s syndrome, a disorder resembling autism. As John begins to understand the disorder, he learns to relate to his father and comes to deeply appreciate the man who raised him. When his father’s health finally fails, John learns his dad has left him a coin collection worth a small fortune.

Grieving his dad’s death, John visits Savannah’s hometown. He finds her at the farmhouse she and her husband own, and he learns she married her friend Tim, with whom she’d been building homes the summer she met John. Tim had always been kind and respectful to John, though John knew Tim loved Savannah, too. Savannah seems unhappy with life, and John learns it’s because Tim is in the hospital battling cancer. She believes an expensive experimental treatment may help him, but they can’t afford it. She bares herself emotionally and physically to John in the midst of her pain. Though it’s heartbreaking, he declines her advances and leaves town. He sells his father’s coin collection and anonymously funds the treatment Tim needs. Later, he returns in secret to Savannah’s farm. The treatment has worked, and she and Tim are happily resuming their lives.



Christian Beliefs


Savannah is a devoted Christian. As a teen, she spent a number of summers building houses with her church group. Savannah tells John how she struggled to fit in when she first started college but found Christian student groups and volunteer work to keep her busy. She says she has a hard time understanding people’s desire to freely experiment with sex, drinking and drugs during college. Upset by the sexual exploits of some of her building crew, Savannah tells John she’s trying not to let it get to her. It’s only God’s judgment that matters, she says, and no one can presume to know the will of God.

Savannah’s friend Tim comes from her hometown where they attended the same church. Savannah raves to John about how patient Tim is with his autistic brother, Alan. She says Tim inspired her to work with disabled children. Savannah’s parents told her maybe the Lord had special plans for Alan. Savannah and Tim pray for John while he’s away in combat. Tim tells John his cancer has tested his faith, but not ended it.

Savannah takes John to church with her and Tim a few times while they’re in Wilmington. John says he was baptized as a kid, but he and his dad hadn’t gone to church for a long time. His dad always insisted that John include his absent mother in his prayers. John says he knows miracles are always possible no matter how sick a person might be.

John praises an Army chaplain named Ted for his trustworthiness and his willingness to listen. Ted called people on the carpet when their behavior was inappropriate, but they still wanted to talk to him. He talked about God as naturally as one would talk about a friend and didn’t pressure people to attend church.



Authority Roles


Savannah’s parents are still happy after 25 years of marriage. Mom stays at home and always volunteered, drove kids to soccer or helped out in the classroom during Savannah’s childhood. Dad, a history teacher, coached girls’ volleyball, ran the youth group and served as a deacon in the church. John’s dad was 45 when John was born. He raised John alone after his wife left. His Asperger’s made it difficult for him to communicate with John and to be in social situations, but he devoted his life to caring for his son.



Other Belief Systems


John says it was just luck — or perhaps, bad luck — that made two marines jog by him, convincing him to join the military. Savannah says she loves full moons because they seem like an omen of good things to come. John thinks a shooting star may be an omen regarding his relationship with Savannah. Several times, John and Savannah talk about the role fate played in their relationship. In her goodbye letter, Savannah regrets that she and John lost the magical bond they had. John carries a buffalo nickel that belonged to his dad and says it is a talisman of sorts.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Several dozen uses of words like p-ssed, screw, d--n, h---, crappy and a--appear. When a guy on the beach is cursing, Savannah politely asks him to watch his language because of the families around. John briefly describes some of what he’s seen in Baghdad, including soldiers torn in pieces when hit by bombs and blood pooling in the streets, flowing past body parts.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


John’s military buddy Tony urges him to come along for a night of alcohol and women, but John refuses. There is mention of John’s previous girlfriends and how they slept together. Savannah’s friend talks about frat guys who get sorority girls pregnant. John says everyone in the Army has a box of dirty magazines under his bed. Savannah’s Habitat for Humanity crewmembers strike John as college kids looking to "hook-up” with someone of the opposite sex. He’s proven right when he and Savannah overhear some of the kids discussing their sexual escapades. John admires Savannah in a bikini when they surf and looks down her shirt when she bends down to grab a bottle. Savannah tells John how she was drugged and nearly raped by a co-ed, and John promises he will always be a perfect gentleman. John and Savannah kiss a number of times. When John stays at Savannah’s parents’ house, Savannah sneaks into his room and sleeps in the same bed without having sex. John doesn’t pressure Savannah to go against her beliefs and sleep with him, but she eventually offers herself to him. They have sex one night, and John can tell their relationship has changed for the worse afterward. After Savannah takes John to see Tim in the hospital, John sees her getting dressed at her home, and she does not turn away, as if showing her willingness to be with him again.



Awards


The New York Times Bestseller, 2010



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

  • Do people fall in love as quickly as John and Savannah did?
    What would you want or need to know about someone before you could fall in love with him/her?
    Is passion enough to keep two people together? Explain your answer.
    What does the Bible say about love?
  • Can long-distance relationships be successful? Explain your answer.
    Why did John and Savannah’s relationship fail?
    What other challenges might a couple face when they spend most of their time apart?
  • Why does John give the money for Tim’s treatment anonymously?
    What does he mean when he says that in any marriage, there is only room for two people?
    What might have happened if Savannah knew the money came from John?
    What would you have done if you were John?
  • Why was John’s dad’s coin collecting so important to him?
    What are you passionate about?
    How can you nurture this skill or hobby and keep the passion for it alive?
  • Why did Savannah let John see her partially naked while Tim was in the hospital?
    What kind of emotions might she have been feeling?
    Have you ever behaved in a way that was out of character during a time of extreme stress or grief?
    Why is accountability an important thing to have?
  • Why didn’t John stay around to comfort Savannah?
    Did he make the right choice in leaving? Why or why not?


Note:

Alcohol use: John drinks and parties a lot in his late teens. He drinks much less in the military. John’s military buddy says tequila is an aphrodisiac, and he urges John to pick some up before his date with Savannah. Savannah never touched alcohol when they were together, so John is surprised to see her drinking wine when he visits after his dad’s death. She says now she’s the kind of person who enjoys a glass of wine in the evenings. She figures since Jesus turned water into wine, it can’t be too much of a sin.

Smoking: John says everyone in the Army smoked, but he quit after joining the military.

Other: John’s Army buddy talks him into getting some tattoos.

Producers often adapt books or use them as a springboard for a movie idea or change them to earn a specific rating. Because of this, a movie may differ from a novel. To better understand how this book and movie differ, compare the book review with PluggedIn Online's movie review.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

 

 
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