I picked up Charlie St. Cloud at a garage sale a couple years ago. I remembered the movie coming out back when I worked at Borders, and we had a display of the novel with the tie-in cover that had Zac Efron's handsome boyish face on it. I had intended to borrow it from the store but then I got pregnant and then the store closed and then I never read it after I bought it at the yard sale so... yeah that about catches us up to the present day.
For a quick, light read, I enjoyed the book enough. I will be purposefully vague because although somewhat predictable, there is a plot twist that I would rather not give away in case anyone wants to read it too. The plot and the writing are very Nicholas Sparks-adjacent, but there's nothing inherently wrong with that. Like Sparks and his various North Carolina settings, this book had a vivid sense of location that is embedded in the story and characters. The author's description of the small Massachusetts costal town and its inhabitants was probably the strongest part of the writing.
Which is why it is odd that the movie did away with that and set it in the Pacific Northwest instead. I'm sure it was just cheaper to film in Vancouver but still. If I hadn't read the book of course I wouldn't have known the difference but it made the movie seem more generic to me. For example, in the book Charlie and Sam are on their way home from a Red Sox game when the accident happens. It isn't critical but it adds more to the brothers' story and their relationship than the movie's version.
I also felt it was lacking something that the movie version made the time jump only five years instead of (I think) twelve in the book. There's a sadness and loneliness that the book's timeline cultivates and Zac Efron's youthfulness didn't really jive with the novel's version of Charlie. Efron does a nice job with what the role as written, although he at times seems to be heavily channeling The Notebook-era Ryan Gosling. And who can blame him, given the material?
The actress who played Tess must've been cast when they couldn't get Kristen Stewart. Her acting was serviceable, but something about her look and often her mannerisms were so K-Stew-esque that it was distracting. I didn't think - whether because of her performance or the way the character was written - that she conveyed the spunk and spark that the book's version of Tess had. Those qualities and the way they stirred Charlie's interest were one reason why it was even somewhat believable that he would fall so hard so fast. In the movie it's a little eye-rolly and while they tried to give them a "we-went-to-high-school-together" backstory to make up for it, there wasn't enough chemistry to drive the plot forward.
Finally, this might seem trivial, but the original title of the book was The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud. I am not sure if it was changed to just Charlie St. Cloud for the film and then for subsequent publications of the book but in a word, BOO. The first title is SO much better in every way! It's more interesting, it's more descriptive, and the ordering of the words - not "life and death" but "death and life" are much more meaningful in terms of the plot and message of the book! It would have been a much more intriguing title for the movie, too. A shame none of the Hollywood producers asked my opinion beforehand. Hmph.
So in conclusion, read the book if you're looking for an easy breezy sort of novel, and skip the movie unless you just feel like eyeballing Efron in henleys and assorted other blue shirts. Which, I mean, there are worse ways to spend two hours.
Next up: Like Water for Chocolate, Something Borrowed, and more!