The Last Song


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Book Review

The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Plot Summary

Veronica “Ronnie” Miller is 17 and angry. She has no desire to leave New York City for Wrightsville Beach, NC, with her 10-year-old brother, Jonah. She dreads spending the summer with the father she hasn’t spoken to since he left their family three years ago.

From the moment she arrives, Ronnie speaks rudely to her dad, Steve, and does her best to avoid him. She‘s especially angry when he plays the piano. Steve was once a concert pianist, Juilliard professor and Ronnie’s piano teacher. Ronnie’s love and talent for music afforded her the chance to play at Carnegie Hall at 13. After Steve left, Ronnie refused to play the piano again.

Ronnie tries to entertain herself. After a handsome beach volleyball player spills soda on her, a highly-pierced, gothic-looking girl named Blaze helps Ronnie find a clean shirt. Ronnie begins spending time with Blaze and her friends, including a hard-partying sociopath named Marcus, whom Blaze considers her boyfriend. Marcus has other ideas, deciding he wants to claim Ronnie for himself. He convinces Blaze that Ronnie is after him. Blaze gets her revenge by putting CDs in Ronnie’s bag while they’re in a store, so it appears that Ronnie has stolen them. Since Ronnie shoplifted once before in New York, a second conviction would land her in serious trouble.

Meanwhile, Steve and Jonah fly kites and enjoy the beach. Steve shows Jonah a stained-glass window he’s building for his church. The church burned down several months earlier, injuring his friend and mentor, Pastor Harris. Steve wants to play a meaningful role in restoring the sanctuary where he learned to play piano and heard about God’s love. Jonah begs to help with the project, and Steve teaches him to work with the glass. After Ronnie’s shoplifting arrest, Steve affirms his belief in her innocence and vows to stand behind her. He shows her a family of endangered sea turtles nesting on the beach near their home. Through these events and other demonstrations of his love and concern for her, Ronnie warms up to her dad.

Ronnie wants to protect the endangered turtles from the raccoons that often eat their eggs. She sleeps outside to watch the nest. She and Steve call the aquarium the next morning so someone can install a protective cage. The aquarium sends a volunteer named Will, the volleyball player who spilled soda on Ronnie her first night in town. Will and Ronnie spend the rest of the summer together and fall in love. They go fishing, care for the turtles, spend time with her dad and Jonah, and attend Will’s sister’s lavish wedding at his family’s estate. The obstacles in their relationship include personal disagreements, Will’s disapproving mother, Ronnie’s impending court appearance and threats from Marcus.

Ronnie passes Steve’s church one day and hears him playing a song he’s writing. He says he can’t quite get it right. Ronnie hears him coughing and notices he seems pale. A few days later, Will and Scott play in an important beach volleyball tournament. Marcus and Blaze toss fireballs nearby, a sideshow-type act that earns them a little money. When Blaze’s shirt catches on fire, Will abandons his game to help. He and Ronnie rush her to the hospital. They wait for hours to ensure she will survive.

The turtles finally hatch. Ronnie has a moment of joy and satisfaction, seeing such a moving sight with Will, Jonah and her dad. Moments later, blood covers Steve’s face. He says he needs to go to the hospital, and he finally reveals he has terminal cancer. He’d asked the kids to spend the summer with him so he could say goodbye. Jonah insists that he, Will and Ronnie should complete Steve’s stained glass window.

The summer is ending. Jonah tearfully returns home, and Will prepares to leave for his first semester of college. In her grief, Ronnie breaks up with Will. Now 18, she decides to stay with her dad to care for him during his final months. Blaze comes to the house and thanks Ronnie for helping her. She says she’s talked to the police and cleared Ronnie of the shoplifting charges. Will’s father provides funding to complete the construction of the church. As Steve’s condition deteriorates, he and Ronnie search fervently for God’s presence and His peace. Ronnie secretly finishes the song her dad was writing. When he is rushed to the hospital, Ronnie prays for a miracle. Steve wakes up and asks her to take him home. She plays the song for him there, and he realizes God’s presence has been with him all along. After he dies, Ronnie returns to New York, where she applies to Juilliard. Will appears and surprises her. He’s transferred to a school in the area so they can be together.

Christian Beliefs

Church attendance was a tradition for generations in Ronnie’s family. Steve has a family picture on his mantle taken after his baptism. His mother, a devout Catholic, was upset by his growing interest in the First Baptist Church as a young boy. In her mind, Steve receiving piano lessons from Pastor Harris was akin to him playing hopscotch with the Devil. Steve frequently reads his Bible and prays with Pastor Harris after his cancer diagnosis. Pastor Harris walks with Steve through his struggles, trying to help him learn to talk and listen to God. The pastor admits he doesn’t hear God with his ears, but with his heart. The Pastor says sometimes it takes us awhile to understand what God wants us to do, and sometimes we hear Him in a way that is as obvious as a church bell. Other times, it’s more like a whisper. Steve often walks the beach and wishes for an obvious sign of God’s presence, like a burning bush. He comes to believe that the beach is not where he will find God’s presence. He continues to search, desiring in particular to find God’s presence in the world, in mortal terms. He talks to God about his children and his concerns for their futures.

When Ronnie learns her dad is sick, she becomes interested in the Bible he’s always reading. She’d never read one before, but she knows she will read his in an effort to find whatever he has found there. She wants to collect whatever memories and stories of her father she can, and she prays God will give them enough time to make that possible. As her dad gets worse, she prays regularly. She doesn’t ask for miracles but for the strength to be the support he needs. She asks her dad about his favorite passages. He quotes Galatians 5:22 and a small part of verse 5:23, about the fruit of the Spirit. Ronnie says she can see how the Holy Spirit has been controlling her dad’s life. As Steve lies dying in the hospital, Ronnie prays fiercely for a miracle. Her dad wakes up and asks her to take him home. She plays him the song they wrote together, and she can see in his eyes that his search for God’s presence has been fulfilled. He finally understands that God’s presence was everywhere at all times, and he wonders how he could have missed something so obvious. He says God is love in its purest form, and that he’d felt that in the touch of his children’s hands and in Ronnie’s music.

Pastor Harris tells Ronnie that he needs to check in on some of his congregants leading a Bible study. He says they tend to love the fire-and-brimstone of Daniel and Revelation and forget about books like 2 Corinthians. A pastor reads from 2 Corinthians during Will’s sister’s wedding.

Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

Pastor Harris teaches Steve piano and serves as a second father to him for many years. He has a way of naturally working God’s blessings into nearly any conversation, and he spends much time in solitude talking to God. Will’s parents have been married for 30 years, always supporting each other in celebration and tragedy.

Ronnie’s parents love her deeply. Despite marriage counseling, they break up after her mom has an affair. Her dad is an honorable, Christ-seeking man who earns the admiration of outsiders. His actions demonstrate his deep love and concern for his children.

Profanity & Violence

Words such as h—, crap and d–n are used frequently. A–, butt and the Lord’s name in vain each appear a time or two. Lord is used with knows, and God is used with I swear to. Blaze says when you say “whatever” to someone, it’s just code for f-word you. (The book uses the term f-word and doesn’t spell out the actual word.) Jonah says PMS means pissed-at-men syndrome. Angry at Marcus for his ongoing threats, Will attacks him and his two thugs, breaking noses and causing bloodshed.

Sexual Content

Ronnie and Will kiss several times, once intensely enough that Ronnie says they need to stop. They never go further than that, though they do consider going to be alone on Will’s family’s yacht before Marcus interrupts them. Marcus refers several times to Ronnie’s tight little body.

He sleeps with Blaze and other regulars, saying he would have broken up with Blaze long ago if she wasn’t so good in bed. He wonders what Ronnie would be like in bed and thinks she’d probably be wild with the right kind of encouragement. One evening, he thinks about how he can swing having sex with several different girls. Marcus’ friends pick up girls with the intention of getting them drunk and taking advantage of them. When Marcus is feeling angry and frustrated, he calls Blaze over, knowing just what will make him feel better. Will’s friend Scott says Will’s ex-girlfriend Ashley looks like that chick in Maxim. Scott follows up with several sexual innuendos about her. Ashley made out with someone at a party while dating Will. Ronnie learns near the end of his father’s life that it was her mother, not Steve, who had the affair leading to the collapse of their marriage.

Discussion Topics

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Additional Comments

Drugs/Alcohol: Ronnie doesn’t drink because it makes people act stupid. She did a lot of clubbing while in New York, and most of the people she ran with drank a lot and did drugs including pot, cocaine, ecstasy and meth. A former boyfriend pressured her to try drugs, and she broke up with him. Ronnie often witnessed people getting stupid or sick, and she believes one of her friends was date raped after being slipped the drug GHB. Blaze, Marcus and Marcus’ friends drink constantly. Marcus makes rude comments about Blaze’s weight because he thinks her drinking is causing her to get pudgy.

Illegal activities: Marcus likes to set fires. He once set fire to a yacht. He also set the fire that consumed the church and injured Pastor Harris. He and his thugs steal things such as alcohol and wallets. They paint swastikas on a synagogue and break into empty rental houses to party.

Movie review: Producers often use a book as a springboard for a movie idea or to earn a specific rating. Because of this, a movie may differ from the novel. To better understand how this book and the movie differ, compare the book review with Plugged In’s movie review for The Last Song.

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