After high school, Landon plans to attend the University of North Carolina, but he is not sure he will be accepted. At his father’s suggestion he runs for student body president, just to boost his college application, even though he has no desire to be president. But he wins, largely because he gets his best friend Eric, who is the school’s star athlete, to persuade all the other jocks to vote for him. When the homecoming dance comes up, Landon does not have a date, but as student body president he is required to attend. Desperately seeking someone who might accept his invitation, he finally decides to ask Jamie Sullivan, realizing that she is the only girl left. He goes to her house, and they sit on the porch, talking rather awkwardly. Finally she asks him why he has come to visit her, and after at first venturing an oblique answer, he asks her if she would like to go to the dance with him. After a pause, during which Landon assumes she is about to refuse, Jamie accepts the invitation, with one condition: she jokingly asks Landon to promise that he will not fall in love with her.
The alert reader will get the sense that the author knows exactly where he is going with his story. However unlikely the couple appears to be at this stage, this is going to be a love story, and the author is very careful to lay the groundwork that will make the story credible. For example, he does not close the door on the possibility that plain Jamie could actually look attractive if she were to take more trouble with her appearance. He already established this at the close of chapter 1, when Landon notices for the first time that Jamie, whom he has known since second grade, really does have breasts under her sweater, and her tan from her August vacation at Bible school makes her “almost pretty.” The author makes sure to repeat this perception almost exactly in chapter 2. When Landon arrives on Jamie’s doorstep, she is dressed more casually than usual, in jeans and a blouse, and although her hair is still in her characteristic bun, Landon observes that “she could actually be cute if she gave herself the opportunity.” These little hints are known in literary analysis as foreshadowing: an author introduces something that suggests a future event or lays the groundwork for it. In this case, the author is at pains to ensure that the romance that is to develop is made believable, so he drops these hints that although Jamie appears plain, she has the potential to be attractive to a boy. There are therefore two things going on here that set the pattern for what follows: Landon’s embarrassment at being in any way associated with Jamie (for fear of being mocked by his friends) and his mostly subconscious feeling that really, Jamie is not as unappealing as her reputation suggests. These two contradictory feelings will be at the basis of much of the conflict in Landon’s mind as the story continues. Eventually, one perception will grow dominant and the other will disappear. But there is a way to go before that happens.