Nicholas Sparks waves his magic romance wand once again, this time over the ideal of transformational first love. In A Walk to Remember, Landon Carter narrates the flashback story of his senior year in the late 1950s at Beaufort High in Beaufort, North Carolina, when he first discovers the power of love.

The Carters are a family whose wealth was built on a grandfather's profits from bootlegging. Compounding the lack of strong male figures in Landon's life is his hypocritical congressman father, who rarely spends time at home. Neglect pushes Landon to develop a rebellious streak, and at the start of the story he is both adrift and certain, confident and susceptible to peer opinion in other words, a typical teenager. There is more than a touch of Holden Caulfield in his character when he encounters Jamie Sullivan, the daughter of a local minister and the goody-two-shoes of the school. Jamie is such social poison to Landon's insecure circle that he avoids her at all costs, until, as the newly elected class president desperate for a date to the dance, he asks her, certain that she'll be available. She accepts, and that night Jamie helps Landon out of an embarrassing bind, revealing a strong character that intrigues him despite her relentless and isolating Christianity.

After Jamie asks Landon to star in the school's Christmas play, a town tradition which her father instituted, he develops a gradual and reluctant relationship with her. They rehearse, they walk home, they talk; when opening night arrives and Landon sees Jamie in an angelic costume, he realizes that he's fallen in love. Bewildered and ecstatic, they nurture their feelings until Jamie reveals the secret that forces Landon to realize what he holds most dear, despite what fate has handed them.

Sparks is a modern master of fateful love stories and road-not-taken fables written in uncluttered prose. A Walk to Remember is perfect autumn fiction, when thoughts turn to changes and life's journeys, both mapped and unmapped.

Deanna Larson is a songwriter in Nashville.

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