A Walk To Remember – by Nicholas Sparks (1999)

A Walk To Remember

The story is told by Landon Carter when he is 57 years old, recalling a time forty years earlier. It was the 1950s in the small town of Beaufort, North Carolina. Landon and his buddies would sneak out at night to get into mischief, and often pull pranks on folks around town. Although it was a very religious community, the local minister, Hegbert Sullivan, and his daughter Jamie were frequently subjects of their off-color jokes. Jamie dressed modestly, wore a plain brown sweater, always carried her Bible, and was unfailingly kind.

Landon found himself thrown together with Jamie, first in desperation as a date for the school dance, and later as a fellow actor in the church’s annual Christmas play. For the first time, he saw how beautiful Jamie was, both inside and out. They began doing things together, like visiting kids at the local orphanage, and raising money for them. Landon’s old friends ridiculed him for hanging around Jamie, but after a while that really didn’t matter. About the time Landon realized that he had fallen in love with Jamie, she told him that she was dying.

The things that kept this book from being a sappy, shallow love story are: 1 – it was based on the author’s own sister, who was dying as he wrote the story; and 2 – it portrayed a kind of love based on devotion to God and others. As Landon and Jamie looked outward and tried to meet the needs of people around them, they formed a close bond to each other. While the book was a tear-jerker, it also showed how anyone, no matter how young or old, can make the world a better place just by loving others.

The book was made into a movie in 2002. While the book was set in the 1950s, the producers of the movie changed it to the late 1990s. They felt young people would be more drawn to a current-day story instead of one from the mid-century. Whether you read the book or watch the movie, you are sure to be moved by this story of deep love.

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Necessary Lies – by Diane Chamberlain (2013)

necessary lies

It’s 1960, and newly-married Jane Forrester has just gotten a job as a social worker for Grace County in North Carolina. She wants to help disadvantaged families, so this seems like a good fit. The work is harder than she thought it would be. Her clients live in tiny, primitive shacks in the middle of nowhere. They need so many basic things – food, clothes, shoes, indoor plumbing, and medical care. They are all on welfare, and it’s up to Jane to monitor them for signs of unreported income, or neglect or abuse of their children.

Jane quickly becomes attached to the Harts – grandmother Nonnie, 17-year-old Mary Ella, her 2-year-old son Baby William, and 15-year-old Ivy. They live in an old cabin on a tobacco farm, and are given free rent in exchange for working on the farm. The little family doesn’t function well. The grandmother has diabetes that she does not manage well, Mary Ella has a low IQ, William is mentally underdeveloped, and Ivy is sneaking out at night to meet a boy.

The job quickly becomes unpleasant. Jane’s husband disapproves of her working. Her co-workers complain that she is getting too emotionally attached her clients. And worst of all, she finds out it’s her job to order the sterilization of Ivy. At that time, social workers in North Carolina could petition to have a person – man or woman – sterilized if they had serious medical conditions, a low IQ, or were simply sleeping around. These folks were all on welfare assistance, and more babies meant more cost to the taxpayers.

Jane finds out that Mary Ella has been lied to by the previous social worker, who had her surgically sterilized, while saying her appendix was removed. Now it’s Ivy’s turn. But Jane has a hard time believing that it’s necessary to lie and manipulate her client into doing something she may not want to do.

Although this book is fictional, the background of the story is true. In their attempt to “help” people that they deemed inferior, the Eugenics Sterilization Program in North Carolina sterilized more than 7,000 people. The program began in 1929, continued through the Great Depression and World War II, and was not closed down until 1975. It began mostly with people who were institutionalized, then shifted over to people collecting welfare. It was often done without the patient being told the truth about what was happening, supposed for their own good. Is it ever necessary to lie? That is the question of this book.

The Glass Sea Sisters – by Lisa Wingate (2013)

The Sea Glass Sisters

This short novel is the story about the powerful bonds of family. No matter how geographically distant, there is something that binds us together. In this story, Elizabeth has live her entire life by the family farm in Michigan, and become a 9-1-1 operator. Her Aunt Sandy, unlike the rest of the family, followed her dreams and opened a seaside shop on a small island off the coast of North Carolina. Now that she is older and has developed diabetes, everyone thinks that she should return to Michigan. The issue becomes urgent when they hear that a powerful storm is headed for the east coast. Elizabeth and her mother drive down to the island to persuade Sandy to leave, but are stranded there for the duration of the storm.

In addition to the story-line of trying to convince Sandy that she doesn’t belong on the island, there is a second story-line. Elizabeth has been traumatized by an emergency call that ended badly. Throughout the novel, she has reoccurring nightmares about the call, which she tries to hide from her family. By the end of the book, her mother and Aunt Sandy help her come to terms with the emergency call that was haunting her.

I think Aunt Sandy nailed it when she said:

“Elizabeth, storms are part of living on an island. Every decision you make in life has benefits and consequences. Sometimes you just have to go on faith, and even that comes at a price. It means you have to give up on the idea that you’re the one in charge of the universe. This old house and I have been through all the storms before, and we’re going to get through this one. Whatever I need, whether that’s provisions or friends to help in the aftermath, or the kindness of strangers like the volunteers who helped after the last storm, God’s going to bring it my way.”