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Outdated Reader: Novel Review of The Guardian by Nicholas Sparks

Updated on August 28, 2014
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My Grade: B!

As a fan of literature, I sometimes feel like a snobby reader. After you read enough Toni Morrison or Ernest Hemingway, you come to expect greatness, and perhaps that is what keeps me from grading with an A. This novel is not greatness, but it is worth reading.

With The Guardian, Sparks has created a forty-two chapter roller coaster filled with excitement for your favorite characters that is quickly rivaled by a discomfort that borders on fear concerning the primary obstacle to their love story. Filled with intimate character portraits and subtle cliff-hangers, he weaved a story that will keep you turning pages throughout the night to have your questions answered!

For a more detailed review, a look at the Sparks intrigues the reader, and a peek at my picks for the cast if I were in charge, continue reading!

Never read anything by Nicholas Sparks before?

Well, then, I'm not sure that this is the book for you. I would suggest you start with one of his earlier works, such as the best-selling romances The Notebook or A Walk to Remember. If you're wondering why, the answer is not because The Guardian doesn't deserve your time. In fact, I rather enjoyed it. The real answer is that it is different from much of his work--it's not the quintessential Sparks novel--and an introduction to his style is best found somewhere else.

Sparks has become famous for his elegant, culturally significant love stories with mass appeal. They are tragic and romantic and several of them have been made into full length feature films which have, by their own right, proven very successful For this novel, however, the author has added a healthy dose of suspense to the mix. In order to appreciate the the manner by which he incorporates this new weapon to his storytelling arsenal, it may be better to read another, more traditional Sparks novel first.

Why is the book worth reading?

As a reader, you like the characters immediately!

Sparks' characters are designed simplistically and so, it's not difficult to form an opinion. There are few places where the reader is unsure how he or she feels about a given character--typically they fit within pretty confined boxes. Emma is the somewhat gossipy but ever-supporting friend and wife. Mabel is the independent and wise-cracking mother-figure. You can probably decide already how you feel about those characters without reading a word!

In general, it doesn't take much to make an audience connect with a character--in fact, a single moment of intimacy is usually enough. Here are the introductions to the first two of the novel's major characters, just to show how Sparks makes a quick connection.

Our first glimpse at Singer, the puppy left for Julie by Jim, her deceased husband:

"It was matted with fuzz and dwarflike, no more than a few pounds, and it was sitting on its haunches in the corner of the box, looking just about as ugly as she'd ever seen a puppy look. Its head was large, out of proportion to the rest of its body. Whimpering, it looked up at her, a glob of muck in its eyes.

Someone, she thought, bought me a puppy. An ugly puppy."

A Great Dane puppy, though this one is sort of a cutie.
A Great Dane puppy, though this one is sort of a cutie. | Source

And our first look at Julie outside of the prologue which details her grief looks like this:

"'Get up, you lazy dog," she wheezed. 'You're killing me here.'

Snoring soundly, Singer didn't hear her, and Julie began squirming, trying to bounce him from his slumber. Suffocating beneath the weight, she felt as if she'd been wrapped in a blanket and tossed in a lake, Mafia style.

...

Singer yawned, pushing his cold nose against her cheek.

'Yeah, yeah, good morning,' she gasped. 'Now scoot.'"

In both instances we see an intimate side of the character, whether its the imperfect, early stages of puppyhood, or the behind-the-scenes morning struggles of a woman with her dog. We are drawn to Singer the way we would be drawn to the runt of the litter, and its the mutual appreciation for Singer that we share with Julie that brings us to like her. We appreciate her humor and her quick forgiveness of Singer, with whom we've already allied ourselves.

As future characters get introduced, Sparks continues to make short work of glimpsing them in an up-close way that makes them feel real for us. This isn't a stunning dog and this isn't a glamorous woman. They're realistic and true.

The Man to Thank for it All

This is Nicholas Sparks, the bestselling author of many books, including the upcoming The Longest Ride.
This is Nicholas Sparks, the bestselling author of many books, including the upcoming The Longest Ride. | Source

It's easy to read!

The Guardian is not a book you'll need to read with a dictionary in your lap. In fact, all Nicholas Sparks are very readable. Nearly all of his books are readable by a middle-schooler (though this particular reference doesn't include The Guardian specifically). Consider this totally standard passage from the tenth chapter of the novel:

"I told you I wanted it loud!"

He was talking about the engine of his recently purchased Callaway Corvette. ...

"It is loud," Mike said. "If I made it any louder, it would be illegal."

"It's not illegal."

"You'll get pulled over," Mike said, "I guarantee it."

...

"I remember coming in here and explaining this very clearly just a couple of days ago. I said I wanted it loud! For cruising the strip! Chicks dig loud! And I'm not going down there for the sun! You hear me?"

"Chicks, not sun," Mike said. "Got it."

Easy squeezy, right? This book definitely isn't going to bog you down in the difficulty department.

Would you prefer to read The Guardian or watch it in theaters?

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Sparks "shows" and "tells."

For anyone who has ever written even a single creative paragraph for a teacher, the phrase "Show, don't tell," is likely forever ingrained on their confused little mind. For a creative writer, a storyteller, one of the primary difficulties is to avoid simply rattling off details about when and when and why things are. It simply won't do to say "this happened and then this happened and then this happened and then this." You want to paint a picture with words, so that the reader can see with their mind's eye everything on the page.

The problem, for some people, however, is that they don't always know how to interpret such writing. They can't see a clip like this one, and recognize that Jake just got serious:

Holding Mike's gaze, Jake removed the toothpick from his mouth. "Yeah, I know him," he said.

If, to the reader, this just looks like a regular conversation, then something will be missing for them. In a nutshell, showing isn't working for them. The problem is that a story can't simply be told, either. A story without any show at all is boring, even though it allows the reader to know everything that's happening. For instance, when a writer "tells," you don't need to interpret what the following means, because it is explained to you immediately:

When Singer got close, he jumped up, balancing on two legs, his front paws pressing against Mike's chest as if they were dancing at the prom. Singer squeaked low in his throat, sounding exciting.

Singer's excited, and in case you didn't get it, Sparks just reminds you there at the end.

If you are a sophisticated reader who enjoys the work of interpreting your stories, then you probably already know that a Nicholas Sparks book isn't your cup of tea. There's a reason students don't have Nicholas Sparks books on their summer reading list--none of the critical reading skills that teachers want to teach are required to process the book's meaning. For some people, however, that sounds just perfect. The Guardian is a great way to replace watching television, or to pass the time on the beach if you're not looking for the work required of something like The Scarlet Letter or Huckleberry Finn.

Reasons to read

  • Characters are inviting
  • Easy to read
  • Shows and tells
  • Edge-of-your-seat plotline

Still not sure? Well, here's a little plot teaser...

If you're still not sure whether you want to read The Guardian yet, despite my solid B grading and assurance that you'll like the characters and have little trouble getting through it, and can't help but wonder "what's it about?," then I'll do my best to help you too (without giving too much away!)

Julie Barenson is widowed young after only a few years of marriage. Her husband, Jim Barenson, leaves her Singer as a gift with the promise that he'll always look after her. Four years later Julie is ready to find a new man to rebuild her life with but has been largely unsuccessful at the start of the book. We're quickly introduced to Mike Harris and Richard Franklin, the two men who seem to be the most viable candidates to steal Julie's heart.

Mike is comfortable, friendly, and can always make Julie laugh. Richard is wealthy, intelligent, and has a sexy air of mystery about him. Who will she choose?

Despite a few exciting dates with Richard, Julie decides that it "just isn't there" and pursues a relationship with Mike that seems rewarding and appropriate. However, Richard isn't ready to simply roll over and give up. He continues to bump into Julie all over town and Julie can't help but feel that something isn't right.

As her relationship with Mike advances, so does the boldness of Richard's interference. With ever-quickening pace, it becomes evident that Richard is not all that he seems, and that, if his past is any indicator, nothing will stop this maniacal control freak from having Julie all to himself, whether she wants him or not!

Casting!!

I think that all readers have a tendency to picture the world described on the page as they read. I surely know that I do have that tendency. Here are the individuals that I pictured playing the key roles in the novel. Maybe Nicholas will take my picks into consideration if they ever decide to film The Guardian!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
This is Greta Gerwig who I would cast to play Julie Barenson, the novel's main character.  She seems soft and is beautiful despite being very "normal."This is Benedict Cumberbatch and I would undoubtedly cast him to play Richard Franklin.  He's handsome and fancy but can definitely play a role where he is tough and intimidating.Casey Affleck is handsome and fit without being ripped and, therefore, he is the perfect Mike Harris.Jessica Stroup is a young, sexy woman who is perfect for the role of Andrea, Julie's naïve co-worker who falls for Richard.Kathy Bates is a phenomenal actress and she is, in my opinion the quintessential mother-figure.  That makes her perfect for the role of Mabel.Jason Lee was sort of a tough pick for me, but he's funny and looks enough like Casey Affleck to play Henry Harris, Mike's older brother.Mayim Bialik is most popular for her role on the Big Bang Theory, but outside of her nerd persona she fits the bill for the wholesome Emma Harris, Henry's faithful wife.
This is Greta Gerwig who I would cast to play Julie Barenson, the novel's main character.  She seems soft and is beautiful despite being very "normal."
This is Greta Gerwig who I would cast to play Julie Barenson, the novel's main character. She seems soft and is beautiful despite being very "normal." | Source
This is Benedict Cumberbatch and I would undoubtedly cast him to play Richard Franklin.  He's handsome and fancy but can definitely play a role where he is tough and intimidating.
This is Benedict Cumberbatch and I would undoubtedly cast him to play Richard Franklin. He's handsome and fancy but can definitely play a role where he is tough and intimidating. | Source
Casey Affleck is handsome and fit without being ripped and, therefore, he is the perfect Mike Harris.
Casey Affleck is handsome and fit without being ripped and, therefore, he is the perfect Mike Harris. | Source
Jessica Stroup is a young, sexy woman who is perfect for the role of Andrea, Julie's naïve co-worker who falls for Richard.
Jessica Stroup is a young, sexy woman who is perfect for the role of Andrea, Julie's naïve co-worker who falls for Richard. | Source
Kathy Bates is a phenomenal actress and she is, in my opinion the quintessential mother-figure.  That makes her perfect for the role of Mabel.
Kathy Bates is a phenomenal actress and she is, in my opinion the quintessential mother-figure. That makes her perfect for the role of Mabel. | Source
Jason Lee was sort of a tough pick for me, but he's funny and looks enough like Casey Affleck to play Henry Harris, Mike's older brother.
Jason Lee was sort of a tough pick for me, but he's funny and looks enough like Casey Affleck to play Henry Harris, Mike's older brother. | Source
Mayim Bialik is most popular for her role on the Big Bang Theory, but outside of her nerd persona she fits the bill for the wholesome Emma Harris, Henry's faithful wife.
Mayim Bialik is most popular for her role on the Big Bang Theory, but outside of her nerd persona she fits the bill for the wholesome Emma Harris, Henry's faithful wife. | Source

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