First off, I need to make some declarations before I get into the meat of my 'review'.
1) I don't write these reviews for Amazon, or its readers. I write them for *me*. I write them to better understand the novel I've just read, to better understand what the author accomplished (while guessing at what their intent had been...sometimes not the same thing at all), to better understand what works and what doesn't, towards the eventual goal of gaining a better grasp on what great writing is, what great storytelling is, what great entertainment novels featuring these elements can be. It is a self-serving process that I offer up for other Amazon readers to take as they will.
2) I envy and admire Mr. Sparks. He's managed to carve out a niche in the marketplace, writing (presumably) what he wants to write, and has a solid fan-base encouraging him to continue doing so. What more could a modern author hope for in this day and age? (Never mind that he's had the added compliment of having several of his novels adapted for the screen.)
3) I bawled through all the 'romance' portions of this novel. It is, at the very heart of it, a testimony to not getting what you crave, when your entire being (to the extent that you're capable at the time of giving your 'entire' anything) is lost in loving someone...or at the very least, desiring them. I know of what the lead character John speaks; I've carried the burden of a 'lost love' for more than seven years now. (Even though mine was a world-class case of unrequited love.) Leading me to Point #4...
4) I'm happy for the readers for whom this book resonated. Resonance is a personal thing. And perhaps the most contentious thing I can say is that resonance does not automatically infer -or confer- quality of writing. It only means that it resonated for you...and for other people who share this experience...and that the novel provided an especially positive experience for you. It doesn't mean it's a 'great novel', no matter how many copies it sells.
What It Isn't:
-It's not great writing.
-It's not great storytelling.
-It's not a great reading experience. (Unless you are a lover of this genre.)
What It Is:
-'Dear John' is 'genre-porn'. Pornography is generally acknowledged as material with no other inherent value -or purpose- than to stimulate a prurient reaction. 'Dear John' is a romance, further a heartbreaking romance, and so its purpose is to elicit the reactions that someone reading this genre wants to experience. That's all. It doesn't aim to elevate the reader's consciousness, it doesn't aim to illuminate Life (although there are a few nice examples in 'Dear John' when it does: adult Asberger's, the realities of armed forces personnel in Iraq not having been trained to be judge or police officers and the concomitant stress involved at still attempting to execute these duties, a general view of coin collecting), and it's not aiming to be 'great literature'. It unabashadly takes a certain tack...and Mr. Sparks does what he can to maintain it.
-It is facile but well-intentioned. On occasion it's ham-fisted...but nevertheless with an undeniable amount of acumen and ability, thanks to the author's experience and resultant skill. Unfortunately, in more than a handful of instances, it gets so mired in...well, in what can only be referred to as 'cringe-inducing' dialogue...that it threatens true mediocrity.
-It is a novel that at times has an inconsistent narrator's voice. 'Plaintive', for example, isn't a word that John -as he's revealed to us- would have used. If it had been, the entire tenor of the novel would have been shifted about seven degrees to the north/northeast. The same goes for the use of 'portending'. Ugh.
-On that note, when you have an emotionally-unevolved character acting as the narrator- Well, is that really what you want to have, given the limitations...unless you're intending on this narrator's limitations to become a huge part of the story? Because in 'Dear John', they're not. They inform the story, they affect the story, but they do not so much as to warrant taking this approach.
-It is a pleasing serving of what this genre aims to feed its patrons with, the sort of stuff that for those readers who want this kind of confection, hits the spot.