Nicholas Sparks has become one of the most prolific romance novelists of our time. Since he first began publishing books in the ‘90s, 11 of his works have been turned into major motion pictures. At one point, it seemed like he had a streamlined process, where once he published a book, the movie was already in production. Some of his novels can be argued to be the best of the genre. Would we even know and love Ryan Gosling to the degree we do if it wasn’t for The Notebook? Probably not, TBH.
But while Nicholas Sparks is amazing at what he does, he can be a tad repetitive. Every book is set in North Carolina. There is almost always a troubled man, meeting the woman who changes him for the better, and they fall in love – but not without some drama. While every book doesn’t follow that exact script, we have seen some clichés played to death in Nicholas Sparks novels and their on-screen adaptations. Of all of his works, these are the best and worst, ranked accordingly. See where your favorite novel falls on this list!
19. The Best of Me
This one has to come in dead last, solely for the ending. If you haven’t read the book or plan to see the movie (same goes for any of these on this list), you might want to skip to the next one now! But this film followed to Nicholas Sparks trope of a couple dating, even though their parents are disapproving. To kick it up a notch, Dawson and Amanda fall in love when they’re in high school, but Dawson comes from a family of criminals, which leads Amanda’s parents to hate them. When Dawson is involved in a family shooting, he cuts ties with Amanda and then doesn’t see her again for 20 years. It is a classic Nick Sparks move, to have a couple reunite and potentially fall in love again. But we’ve seen this before in his earlier novels.
It didn’t end well, though, since after they fall back in love and Amanda even considers leaving her husband for him, Dawson is involved in a fight with his father and cousins and he dies. Yup, we don’t get a happy ending. But, Amanda’s son needed a heart (because there wasn’t enough drama) and his donor wound up being Dawson. WHY.
18. The Wedding
Did you know The Notebook got a sequel? Yeah, most of the world didn’t know. The Wedding follows Noah and Allie’s daughter, Jane, and her husband Wilson. After thirty years of marriage, Wilson realizes the love has left his marriage. He’s then determined to re-court his wife as they are getting ready for their own daughter’s wedding. Wilson isn’t anything like his father-in-law, Noah. He isn’t good with his words and struggles with being romantic. The Wedding is much slower than The Notebook and while the story is compelling for anyone who’s felt the life drift out of their relationship, it isn’t as emotionally jarring. It is a good example for anyone struggling in their marriage, proving that things can work (hopefully) if both parties are willing to work together.
17. True Believer
True Believer isn’t exactly an awful book, but the fact that the sequel is better than the original speaks volumes. This is one of a handful of books that were never made into a movie either, which is surprising given the success of his movies. But maybe it is because there is a ghost hunt, which seems very far out of the realm for normal Nicholas Sparks novels.
True Believer brings New Yorker Jeremy to North Carolina to investigate a ghostly light that is appearing in a cemetery in North Carolina. Jeremy thinks he’s going to just spend a weekend in the sticks investigating and writing about the lights, but he quickly falls in love with Lexie. The book is all about a big-time city man falling for a “simple” girl. While in North Carolina, Jeremy discovers the town’s mayor has known all along what is causing the lights in the cemetery and it isn’t ghosts. After Jeremy reveals the discovery, he and Lexie get in a huge fight and he rushes back to New York. It isn’t long before Lexie’s grandma, Doris, comes to visit him and tell him that Lexie loves him, which has him rushing back to North Carolina. Cliché after cliché after cliché, the book ends with Lexie revealing she’s having Jeremy’s baby.
16. At First Sight
At First Sight, came to be because Nicholas Sparks wrote a 45-page epilogue for True Believer. His editor suggested turning that into a sequel and he was inspired! The novel picks up quickly after the first novel, with Jeremy and Lexie living in Boone Creek together, getting ready to start their family. Jeremy is grappling with the fact that he’s doing all the things he thought he never would: leave New York, get married again, and become a father. All seems well between Lexie and Jeremy, but everything changes when an email comes in, suggesting that the baby isn’t Jeremy’s. Jeremy fears that Lexie lied to him and that the baby is Rodney’s, the man who has been in love with her for years but she hadn’t given him the time of day, or so everyone thought. The drama is more tangible than the story in True Believer, which makes this a more gripping read, if not cliché. Jeremy and Lexie work things out because Lexie wasn’t cheating, even though it seemed like she had since Jeremy had thought he couldn’t conceive. But when all seems well, they learn something might be wrong with the baby and spend ten weeks fearing the worst. Then the clincher is that the baby, Claire, is born healthy, but Lexie dies immediately after childbirth, leaving Jeremy a widow… How sick is that?
15. Message in a Bottle
Can you believe this was only Nicholas Sparks second published romance novel? This deals with the themes of grief that the author so often writes about. When Theresa is jogging on a beach one day, she finds a letter in a bottle written by a man named Garret to a woman named Catherine, his late wife. When she shows her coworkers, they publish it in the paper. Then another letter to Catherine comes. After getting a few, Theresa tracks down Garrett to learn more.
But when they meet, they fall for each other before Theresa can tell him why she’s come. Garret goes to visit her in Chicago but discovers his letters are there and they fight… until he finds a letter that Catherine wrote before she died. Theresa tells him to write to her when he’s ready to move on. In classic fashion, he is ready to move on and writes a final letter to Catherine, only then to die when he tries to rescue a group in a sinking boat.
14. The Choice
The Choice movie was just not good, which is sad because Tom Welling was in it (but not as the lead, which is their first mistake). And while the book isn’t all that bad, it’s not Nick’s best either. It follows one of many tropes, where a young man thinks he has everything he needs until he meets a young woman. Travis is a veterinarian living in North Carolina who falls in love with his new neighbor, Gabby, even though she’s a little gruff at first.
The problem is that she’s already taken. The first half of the book deals with the choices Gabby has to make about being with Travis. Once everything seems to be calm and settled with Gabby picking Travis, them getting married and starting a family together, tragedy, of course, strikes. Gabby is involved in a car accident and put on life support. Travis has to make the choice of taking her off of life support or having her sent to a long-term care facility. He chooses the latter, and unsurprisingly, Gabby wakes up just a few months later for their lives to go back to normal. It is far too predictable of a story, but he’s a cute veterinarian and there are dogs in this story, so it’s not a bad one.
13. The Guardian
The Guardian is an interesting take on love that truly should have been given the movie treatment. Dealing with obsessive love, it’s truly something new for Nicholas Sparks. When Julie’s husband died, he left her with just two things: a promise to always look after her and a puppy named Singer. Four years after her husband’s death, Julie decides she’s too young to give up on love. Julie has to choose between Mike, her husband’s best friend who is down-to-Earth or Richard, a handsome and sophisticated engineer. What she thought was a simple choice between two men turns out to be a dangerous decision in which she’s embroiled in jealousy and deception. It might not be Nick’s best writing, but the stalkerish tactics of Richard after Julie rejects him are freaky enough to make any woman reconsider her choices in men.
12. Dear John
When it comes to romance, we typically want a happy ending. Maybe there is one in Dear John, but it isn’t the happy ending that readers were expecting. John and Savannah fall in love one summer (as seemingly all Nicholas Sparks characters seem to do) while John is on leave from the U.S. Army. In this instance, the book is stronger than the movie. Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried tried their best on this one, but their chemistry was lacking.
However, in the story, John struggles with his relationship with his father due to his dad’s undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome. Savannah helps him understand it and even relates to his father in a way John never can. When they separate after those few short weeks one summer, they lead different lives and Savannah falls in love with another man. John comes home after his father dies and finds that Savannah still loves him, but he sacrifices his happiness to let her live a better life with another man.
11. The Last Song
Nicholas Sparks specifically wrote this book with the intentions of turning it into a movie. He even had Miley Cyrus in mind for the lead role. This movie, despite is flaws and Disney-esque tone, holds a special place in our hearts, because it brought Miley and Liam Hemsworth together. This novel is another gut-puncher, as it couples troubled family relationships with illness. Ronnie is sent with her brother to live with their father for the summer. She hates the idea almost as much as she hates her dad. She runs off quickly to distract herself, and she (literally) bumps into Will on the beach. Will is a rich boy (another Nick Sparks trope) that she doesn’t have much in common with until she learns he volunteers at the aquarium. As Ronnie falls in love with Will, she learns that her father has cancer and he isn’t the bad guy she’d pictured him to be. In fact, he’s the good guy. Some of the darker tones of the book (like a girl being lit on fire) did not make it into this movie.
10. Two by Two
Many Nicholas Sparks books and movies focus so heavily on a love story that children can often become secondary characters. In Two by Two, this is a beautiful example where a child is of true importance. Russ believes he has a perfect life. He’s an ad executive, he has a stunning and smart wife, and a sweet daughter. But when all of that crumbles, he has to come to grips with his new reality. He leaves his job to start his own marketing company but when his wife doesn’t support him, he realizes he might have made a mistake. Vivan starts to work again and winds up falling in love with her boss, leaving both her husband and her daughter. Vivan battles in court for full custody of their daughter London, especially when Russ begins to fall back in love with an old girlfriend, Emily. But an unexpected cancer diagnosis for Russ’s sister just might be the bridge these two need to learn to get along.
9. Safe Haven
Safe Haven the book is certainly the better of the two, as the movie focuses so much on the happy relationship in this story, it fails to show the real grit behind the scenes. In the story, Erin is fleeing her home because of her extremely abusive and manipulative detective husband, Kevin. She moves from Boston to North Carolina, where she changes her name to Katie. She finds a nice neighbor named Jo, who she bonds with while she settles in her new home. Katie meets Alex, a widower, and father. Katie and Alex fall in love, with Jo encouraging Katie to open up to Alex. But Kevin finds Katie, despite her new identity, and is enraged that she left him. He sets the house on fire, trying to kill Katie and Alex while they’re inside. Surprisingly, both of them survive the flames.
The fact that Katie survives here isn’t the twist, though. The biggest shocker is when Alex gives Katie a letter from his late wife, Carly, titled “For Her” and inside, is a letter to Katie that thanks her for making Alex happy again and includes a photo of Carly. But it’s actually Jo! She realizes that Jo was Carly all along, in the form of an angel. You can’t make this stuff up, people!
8. See Me
Unlike many of Nicholas Sparks works, See Me’s most compelling drama isn’t actually about a love story. While the story centers around Maria and Colin falling in love, the drama in their relationship isn’t the climax of the story. The book isn’t something that will make you ball your eyes out, but instead, it is a page-turning thriller that will have you guessing until the end. Maria used to work for the district attorney but after one of her clients is brutally murdered, Maria is harassed by the young woman’s brother and feels so much guilt that she moves back home. While there, she first meets Colin, a 28-year-old with a dark and violent past. Colin was close to being tossed in jail for life, but thanks to his parents, he got a deal that would keep him safe unless he got in trouble again.
Colin’s honesty about his past is why Maria falls for him. But then Maria’s past comes back to haunt her when someone leaves dead roses in her car and slashes her tires. Maria is convinced it is the same guy from before, but things just don’t add up. The entire time you’re trying to solve the case just as Maria is doing the same.
7. The Rescue
Before there were many classic Nicholas Sparks tropes, there was The Rescue. In it, Taylor is a firefighter who will happily run to save women from a fire but doesn’t have the ability to make a real connection with a woman. He runs away as soon as things get tough. That is until he meets Denise. He rescues Denise after her car skids off the road, but the real trouble happens when they realize that Denise’s 4-year-old son, Kyle, is missing. Kyle has severe learning disabilities and Denise quit her job as a teacher to help her son, waitressing on the side to get by. Taylor and Denise grow closer as they search for Kyle and when they find him, Denise is impressed to see how well Kyle responds to Taylor. The next struggle is getting Taylor to actually deal with his commitment issues and see if he’s able to commit to Kyle and Denise.
6. Nights in Rodanthe
Most of Nicholas Sparks work centers on young couples, either teenagers or people in their twenties. A few stories stray out of that, and Nights in Rodanthe is really on the outskirts. But that also is what makes it stand out. After Adrienne’s husband leaves her for a younger woman and she suddenly becomes a single mother to their three children, she is struggling.
One day, she gets the chance to have some time alone by tending to an inn in Rodanthe for a friend. When she gets there, a storm is forecasted and only one person checks in, Paul, a recently divorced father and surgeon who just had a patient die which is why he is seeking solace. While the storm rages outside, Adrienne and Paul fall in love, naturally. But they realize that once they leave Rodanthe, they’ll be going back to their old lives. They write to each other, but Paul winds up dying while working with his son in Ecuador. Happy endings aren’t always needed, and they are RARE in a Nicholas Sparks book, but man, this one really felt like a punch in the heart.
5. A Bend in the Road
This truly is some of Nick’s best work and it is surprising this was never turned into a movie. It has all the drama and twists that a film requires. Miles is a deputy sheriff, still reeling from the sudden death of his wife in a hit-and-run accident. He’s trying to raise his son, Jonah, without his wife and isn’t looking for love — but love finds him in the form of his son’s second-grade teacher, Sarah. She is exactly what Miles needs in his life and as they grow closer and their love becomes quite obvious, neither of them realize that there’s a secret tying them together. Oh no, we see where this is going…
It’s later revealed that the unknown driver that killed Miles’s wife, Missy, is actually Brian — Sarah’s brother! But how the accident happened wasn’t at all what Miles had thought and he has to decide the best way to proceed.
4. The Lucky One
Honestly, can we ask for anything better than Zac Efron in a Nicholas Sparks movie? This book features a “faith” plot that is pretty far-fetched, even for Nicholas Sparks, but we’ll let it go. Logan is a U.S. Marine who finds a photo of a smiling woman while he’s stationed overseas. Even though he doesn’t know her, he keeps the photo and believes that it protected him when his unit comes under attack. When he returns home to Colorado from the war, he believes the woman’s photo is part of his destiny and sets across the country with his dog, Zeus, to find her. Sure enough, she’s in North Carolina!
He learns she’s a divorced, single mother named Beth, but he is (and so is she) quickly surprised by their strong attraction. They fall in love, but not without complications. Complications meaning that Beth’s jealous, kind-of psycho ex is lurking. In truly gruesome fashion, there is a final scene where Beth’s ex, Keith is in the treehouse with their son, Ben during a storm. Logan tries to save them when the tree house collapses, Zeus saves Ben, but Keith tries to kill Logan. Thankfully, Logan survives while Keith dies, giving readers one of very few Nicholas Sparks happy endings.
3. The Longest Ride
As far as movies go, this one was okay. Scott Eastwood is easily one of the hottest leading men in a Nicholas Sparks movie. But he had very little chemistry with co-star Britt Robertson. The Longest Ride novel is some of Nick Sparks best work, though, earning it the #3 spot. It features some of his dueling storylines: telling a love story set in the past and the present, but rather than it being the same couple, it is two different couples who later are connected. Luke and Sophia meet and fall in love, but Sophia has a hard time understanding Luke’s dangerous bull-riding career. Luke is one accident away from possibly dying due to so much damage to his body and naturally, that stresses Soph out.
The second story follows Ira and Ruth, who first fall in love when Ruth moves to — you guessed it! — North Carolina with her family to escape the war. The couple plans to have a big family, but when Ira is injured fighting in WWII, he’s informed he can no longer have children. But Ruth loves him, so the couple makes it work and they have a long, happy life together.
The couples intersect because Sophia and Luke (the present day couple) find Ira after he crashed his car. Before Ira is found, he sees his late wife Ruth, as she appears to him in a vision and keeps him holding on by talking about their life together. The film makes it seem as if Ira and Sophia bond, but in the novel, there is no relationship between the two other than Sophia and Luke finding Ira in his car. Of the two relationships, Ira and Ruth’s love story is compelling and emotional, whereas Luke and Sophia’s is lukewarm, which is why the novel is better than the movie as the novel features both couples equally, but the film focuses too much on Sophia and Luke.
2. A Walk to Remember
As a book, A Walk to Remember is even better than the movie, no disrespect to Mandy Moore and Shane West. The pair had some of the best chemistry we’ve seen in the Nicholas Sparks world. That said, the book and movie are pretty different. In the film, Landon is a “bad boy” student and gets in trouble after a prank he and his friends planned lands a kid in the hospital in critical condition. He is forced to take part in the school play, which is where he really first interacts with Jamie. Whereas in the book, Landon is actually the class president and asks Jamie to a dance (because no one else can go), but he actually enjoys their date and when she asks him to the join the play, he does so willingly.
Jamie’s character in the novel is also very involved with helping children in an orphanage, where she and Landon spend Christmas Eve with them after buying them Christmas gifts. Both the film and the novel feature the same storyline of Jamie not wanting Landon to fall in love with her because she is dying of leukemia but all-in-all, the book version is just slightly better. The movie’s still a classic, though!
1. The Notebook
Now, this book is not only Nicholas Sparks’s best work in terms of writing, it’s also his best film adaptation. For those of us who love to have our hearts ripped out, The Notebook does just that. Noah and Allie fall in love one summer and their relationship is a whirlwind. Allie’s life is already planned out. Her rich dad seems willing to accept Noah, but her mother refuses. When her mom calls Noah trash, they wind up breaking up and Allie’s family moves away. Noah doesn’t stop loving Allie, he writes to her “every day for a year.” We all know the story: Allie’s mom had been keeping all the letters and Allie never knows. She falls in love again and is set to marry a man her parents approve of when she sees that Noah fixed up that house where they first ~made love~. While that’s all good, the truly powerful part of this story though is the fact that Noah loved Allie so much that when her memory started to slip and she developed Alzheimer’s disease, he never gave up on their love. The transition in writing from present day to past Noah and Allie is gut-wrenching. Don’t even get us started on the ending, we don’t have enough tissues in the world for that.