Grand Central Publishing, September 2010
Nicholas Sparks is a brand as surely as Kellogg, Chevrolet, or Apple. As surely as you know those cornflakes/car/computer will be of a certain quality, the reader knows that Sparks will deliver a competent, predictable story. Geared toward a female audience (That's not a sexist statement; just go to one of his readings and note the percentage of women readers.), the story will feature certain elements. A "lost" boy/man and girl/woman will meet by chance in a beautiful setting on the North Carolina coast. Love will blossom and eventually be requited after a number of diversions along the path to true love.
Those elements remain in Safe Haven; however, there is a darker, more menacing element present, one that goes beyond the normal vicissitudes of life. This element makes for a pretty good read, one that is less saccharine, more peppery than Sparks' usual fare. We know that Kevin is the bad guy as soon as we meet him, and his descent into madness is as predictable as the tides.
Safe Haven is set in Southport, a small town near Cape Fear, south of Wilmington, NC. Now a thriving tourist center with excellent restaurants and antique shops and the gateway to Baldhead Island, it retains its small town feel. Long a haven, it briefly harbored this reviewer's immigrant family in the late 18th Century. So, it is no surprise when Katie, a mysterious stranger with an unknown past, arrives and gets a job as a waitress at a local seafood restaurant. It is her past, which "prowled the world searching for her" that provides the enduring conflict. Sparks draws on the clash between locals versus outsiders to create one level of conflict as Katie is unwilling to share her background. As Sparks knows well, and uses to good advantage, it is important to know who one's "people" are for this gives one a place in the greater society.
Needing food, Katie shops at the local grocery store owned and operated by Alex Wheatley. He is raising two young children after his wife's untimely death. A retired Army major who worked in criminal investigations, he has uncommon insight into Katie. Of course, events conspire to bring them together and lead them toward love. But, the course of true love never did run smooth in a Sparks novel, and obstacles must be overcome. Helping in that process is the character of Jo, a grief counselor who moves in next to Katie. But, is Jo, who appears to know a great deal about Alex and his family, who she seems to be?
Sparks has woven a more complex, more gothic tale than usual. Sure to please his legion of fans (50 million copies of his books are in print in 40 languages), this novel and the ensuing movie are sure to bring new fans into his fold. With nine number one NY Times bestsellers and six popular movies, Sparks and his family continue to live in Eastern North Carolina. A former outsider, he has become an integral part of his community.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.