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January 19, 2013

Weekend Reviews: Sparks creates the perfect spark

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The Daily Star

---- — If you enter the library of any high school in America, chances are the number of books listed under the author “Sparks” will far exceed many others in the fiction section. Nicholas Sparks has written 17 books, and I’m sure will have two finished and ready to be published by the time this column is printed.

Sure, that last statement was a bit of an exaggeration, but Sparks’ wild popularity is not. Starting with the adaptation of Sparks’ book “Message in a Bottle” into a film starring Kevin Costner, Robin Wright Penn and Paul Newman in 1999, the Sparks phenomenon has done nothing but spread like wildfire — one that has lasted more than 10 years, sold about 80 million books and grossed nearly $600 million worldwide in box office sales.

If you didn’t realize it, a lot of money has been made, all thanks to Nicholas Sparks, who is a genius at tugging at the heart strings and formulating romances that women, old and young, hold out for and pine over.     

I asked 20 girls, ages ranging from 15 to 20, what their favorite Sparks story was, why they so enjoy his work, and why they believe so many others do the same.

With more than half the votes, the favorite Sparks story was “The Notebook” which tells the tale of Noah and Allie, who fall in love in a South Carolina town during the summer in the 1940s. The story is a classic “Romeo and Juliet” tale: Allie is the daughter of an affluent couple visiting for the summer, who disapprove of her relationship with Noah, a poor local boy, despite the passionate connection between the two.

Noah and Allie split, and neither hear of the other for years until Allie sees Noah’s photo in the newspaper, showing the beautiful house he had fixed up, just like he had promised Allie he would before they went their separate ways.

Despite being engaged to another, wealthier man, Allie decides to visit Noah, where she discovers that Noah wrote her every day for a year, but her mother had intercepted the letters to force Allie to move on from the relationship. The rest, they say, is history.

I believe that “The Notebook” is probably one of the most beloved romances among teenagers, and probably many women, in general. The thought of a handsome, kind man who pines for  — and builds a house for —  his long-lost love is an over-the-top romantic idea that most girls don’t believe exists anymore, which explains the extreme appeal of the story.

Sparks’ most well-known works, “The Notebook,” “A Walk to Remember,” “Dear John,” “The Last Song” and “The Lucky One,” all feature a strong male protagonist, one who would never dare to stray from his lover, and would never want to, either. Males reading this might roll their eyes and are probably thinking about skipping the rest of this column, but I think that they might stand to learn a thing or two from these guys. 

I am not by any means saying that you should be a walking cliché who measures his worth by the number of long-stemmed roses he presents his woman every day, but I think that the reason Sparks is such a popular author is because females desire these types of relationships for themselves.

I don’t think they’re so ridiculous to desire such things either. Sure, the idea of an all-consuming love where people are dying and sobbing uncontrollably might be a little much. However, the other aspects, where women are treated with respect and courtesy, and people respect each other, is not too far-fetched. 

I will admit, I have a soft spot for Nicholas Sparks movies, particularly “A Walk to Remember”  and “The Lucky One,” both which feature male protagonists whose love for their significant others is overwhelming and completely moving to the audience.

I just finished Sparks’ latest book, “Safe Haven,” which follows the story of a young woman named Katie who has just relocated to a town in North Carolina and befriends a neighbor named Jo and a shopkeeper named Alex with two young children. The story is classic Sparks: plenty of unknown backstory that is slowly and interestingly revealed, as well as lots of Southern scenery and confessions of affection.

The film adaptation stars Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel, and will be released on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14. I believe that if the movie is anything like the book, we will have another Sparks hit on our hands.

Overall, I admire Sparks for being able to control the emotions of his readers and those who watch his movies; I believe that it truly shows how gifted an author he is. And you can’t really fault the guy for knowing what works and sticking to it. If it means that we continue to get beautiful romance stories out of it, then I guess it’s OK.

Maggie McVey, a 2012 graduate of Oneonta High School, is a freshman at the State University College at Plattsburgh. ‘Teen Talk’ columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/teentalk.