Newsflash: The Notebook this is not. If you’re looking for a dreamy romance to pull on your heartstrings, Nicolas Sparks’ latest novel The Last Song isn’t the best choice (much to my surprise). In this case, I learned my lesson: Don't judge a book by its cover…escpecially when Hannah Montanna makes up most of the cover art.
When I picked up my copy, the image of film stars Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth embracing on the front led me to believe I was in for yet another heart-wrenching relationship drama, you know, the kind Sparks has become famous for writing. Though there’s definitely romance (I mean, would it be a Nicolas Sparks story without it?) that’s not really what the story is about.
The Last Song is ultimately about the repair of daughter and father’s bond. The culmination of the story, which encompasses the last third of the text, focuses primarily on that relationship. The budding young love in the beginning is really just the facilitator for main character Ronnie to gain the strength she needs to handle her father’s secret.
17-year-old Ronnie hasn’t quite recovered from the dissolution of her family. After her father left and moved back to his hometown in North Carolina, Ronnie stopped playing the piano, started to rebel by hitting the New York City club scene, shoplifting, and ignoring her mother’s rules. Tired of her antics, her mom forces Ronnie and her little brother Jonah to spend the summer at their father’s beachside bungalow – even though they haven't spoken to him in over three years.
Ronnie is conflicted from the moment she arrives, struggling with her many issues throughout the summer while simultaneously falling in love with Will, the boy that goes against her type (a.k.a. a good Southern boy her mom would love). Like all of Sparks’ books, The Last Song features teen angst, family squabbles, love, and an equal dose of faith.
While the first part of the book failed to truly capture my interest (it moves rather slowly and chugs along in a way that isn’t eloquent or inspiring), the story picks up speed when we're introduced to Steve, Ronnie's pianist father. It’s clear his story is the most compelling, and there's certainly more going on than what appears on the surface. The last few chapters will have you bawling, but not for the reasons you’d expect.
Perhaps it’s hard for me to really like this book because of the process by which it was created. A film producer initially approached the author and asked him to create a story for a Miley Cyrus-vehicle that would ultimately become The Last Song. Sparks then wrote the screenplay for the film version before even beginning work on the novel itself. Something about this seems fundamentally wrong to me; can it be considered real literature if its beginnings are the result of a teen star’s desire to do a romantic drama? You be the judge.
— By Ali Straka, University of Missouri