When confronted by raging fires or deadly accidents, volunteer fireman Taylor McAden feels compelled to take terrifying risks to save lives. But there is one leap of faith Taylor can’t bring himself to make: he can’t fall in love. For all his adult years, Taylor has sought out women who need to be rescued, women he leaves as soon as their crisis is over and the relationship starts to become truly intimate. When a raging storm hits his small Southern town, single mother Denise Holton’s car skids off the road. The young mom is with her four-year-old son Kyle, a boy with severe learning disabilities and for whom she has sacrificed everything. Taylor McAden finds her unconscious and bleeding, but does not find Kyle. When Denise wakes, the chilling truth becomes clear to both of them: Kyle is gone. During the search for Kyle, the connection between Taylor and Denise takes root. Taylor doesn’t know that this rescue will be different from all the others, demanding far more than raw physical courage. It will lead him to the possibility of his own rescue from a life lived without love and will require him to open doors to his past that were slammed shut by pain. This rescue will dare him to live life to the fullest by daring to love.

    Inspiration for The Rescue

    Despite the fact that all of my previous novels were originally inspired by members of my family, I’d have to say that The Rescue is my most personal novel to date. It was, at times, painful and challenging to write because of the memories it conjured up.

    That is because The Rescue was inspired by my second son, Ryan.

    Years ago, when he was five and a half, my oldest son Miles had to have his tonsils taken out, so we brought him to the doctor the day before surgery, so the doctor could tell him what was going to happen. He didn’t want my son to be frightened by the doctor’s mask or what was going to happen. Toward the end of the talk, the doctor bent over and said to my younger son, “Hey Ryan, how are you?”

    Ryan didn’t answer, but that didn’t surprise my wife or me and we sort of laughed it off. “Oh, he won’t answer you,” my wife said, “he’s our little mute child. He doesn’t talk at all. This one over here (pointing to Miles)—he never shuts up, and Ryan can’t get a word in edgewise.” The doctor nodded with a smile, and a few minutes later, we finished up with the consultation. The doctor then asked if he could see Ryan in the office for a few minutes.

    “Sure,” we said, figuring that the doctor was going to show him one of those models of a skeleton or something like that. A few minutes later, the doctor returned with Ryan, a serious expression on his face.

    “I don’t mean to alarm you,” he said, “but I think your son is autistic.”

    Until that moment, neither my wife nor I had considered that something might be seriously wrong with Ryan. Because the words had come out of nowhere, we were staggered by what he’d said.

    I don’t know how many of you are parents, but those are just about the most frightening words a parent can possibly hear. Do you want to know what my first thought was as I stared first at the doctor, then my wife, and then at my son?

    Rain Man.

    The movie with Dustin Hoffman, where he plays an autistic character. The one where he lives in an institution.

    Was that, I wondered, going to be the future for my son?

    My wife and I left the office in a daze and spent the next few days trying to come to grips with what we’d been told. Before we’d left the office, the doctor told us to have our son evaluated and we made the appropriate calls.

    It took six weeks for the evaluation to take place. Six weeks of worry, six weeks of stress, six weeks of absolute fear. Getting the results added another couple of weeks, and when they were done, we sat in the office with another doctor.

    “Based on the evaluation, we’re pretty sure he is autistic,” he said.

    “Is he going to be okay?” we asked.

    “I don’t know.”

    “What do we do?”

    “I don’t know, but you should know that a few things didn’t check out, so we recommend getting another evaluation.”

    Six more weeks of worry. Then two more weeks to get those results.  When the doctor sat us down again, he essentially said, “Oops, sorry. We were wrong with our first evaluation. Your son isn’t autistic. We think he has what’s called Pervasive Development Disorder.”

    “Oh,” I said, “Well. . . is he going to be okay?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “What do we do?”

    “I don’t know. But we do recommend getting another test, this time on his hearing, so we can be sure nothing is physically wrong with him.”

    We did. And it took another six weeks before the doctor sat us down again.

    “Oops, sorry,” he said, “your son doesn’t have Pervasive Development Disorder. The problem with your son is that he’s profoundly deaf.”

    We looked at him. “Then why,” I asked, “does he turn his head when the air conditioner clicks on?”

    “Oh, he does that? Well, let’s get another test. . .”

    We did. And two months later, we sat down again.

    “Well, you’re right,” the doctor said, “your son can hear. But the problem with your son is that he’s profoundly retarded with attention deficit disorder. . .”

    Edenton, NC

    Edenton, NC

    Edenton, known as “The South’s Prettiest Small Town,” is the first permanent settlement of North Carolina. Rich in colonial history, visitors can revisit Edenton’s colonial past simply by walking the beautiful historic district that is still home to original, restored homes. The town is built on the waterfront, and what once served as a port of call now welcomes locals and visitors alike for pleasure boaters and water sports. Off the beaten path, travelers will find quiet bed and breakfasts and wide countryside which was once home to rich plantations. Bucolic Edenton provides the ideal setting for eternal love in Nicholas Sparks’ beloved novel,The Rescue.

    That’s how our year was spent. On and on, evaluation after evaluation, without answers, without a plan of action, without knowing what was wrong with our son or whether it was going to be okay.

    This was all happening in 1996, and 1996 was a pretty eventful year for me. 1996 was the year my father died. In 1996, I was still worried about my sister’s health, and 1996 was the year The Notebook was published. Needless to say, there was a lot going on that year.

    When The Notebook was published, I went on a tour that lasted a little longer than three months and my wife was home alone with our two children, so for Christmas that year, I bought my wife a gift I thought she would love. I got her a trip to Hawaii—without me.

    “Without me?” you ask. You have to understand that she’d been home alone for three months, and we didn’t have any family members nearby who could watch the kids. If she was to relax—and she deserved it—I’d have to watch the kids. It was the only way she wouldn’t worry, so she went off to Hawaii with a friend.

    Though it pains me to say this now, our marriage was a little rocky that year. Looking back, it’s easy to see that we were under a great deal of stress, but at the time, it wasn’t so clear. While she was in Hawaii, we had an argument about the state of our relationship and my wife called me to the carpet.

    “Look,” she said, her voice cracking, “let me tell you what I’ve been going through this year, okay? I wake up every morning and worry about Ryan. I wonder if Ryan will ever have a friend. Or go to school. Or drive a car, or have a girlfriend, or go to the prom. I wonder if Ryan will have to live with us forever. No one can tell us what’s wrong with him or whether he’ll ever be okay and all that’s happened is that Ryan has fallen another year behind other kids his age. I think about these things all day long, they’re the last things I think about before I go to sleep, and I wake up in the middle of the night crying about it. That’s what my life is like now.”

    After she said that, I felt terrible. It wasn’t like that for me. I’m not a mother and though I loved Ryan, I guess I’d just assumed he’d be okay. Needless to say, I apologized to my wife and then I said:

    “As your husband, I’ll make a vow to you. I promise to cure our son.”

    Big words, but I meant just that. Since all of this had started—it had been a year since we’d been in the first doctor’s office—I’d read everything about child development that I could lay my hands on. During that time, I came up with a plan that I thought might just work.

    The next day, I bought a small table and chair (the chair had a seatbelt) and I strapped my son into the chair. I opened a picture book, held out a small piece of candy, and pointed to the first word and image.

    “Apple,” I said. “Apple. Apple. Apple. Apple. Apple. . .”

    After two minutes of that Ryan was bored.

    After five minutes, he’d started to cry.

    And I said, “Apple. Apple. Apple. . .”

    After eight minutes, he was mad.

    At ten minutes, he was screaming in fury, a temper tantrum times ten.

    And I said, “Apple. Apple. . . “

    He screamed and screamed and screamed.

    After two hours of endless screams, for a little piece of candy, my son would say “aaaa.”

    After four hours of that, my son would say, “Ap.”

    After six hours, my son said, “Apo.”

    It was one of the greatest moments of my life. It was the first time in a year that I knew my son could learn. Such a small thing, but until that point, neither my wife nor I knew whether he was capable of that. And then, for the first time in what seemed like forever, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. A tiny light, but a light nonetheless.

    The next day, I strapped him in and worked with him for another six hours. That night, I called my wife in Hawaii and apologized again. I put my older son on the phone and he talked to his mom, then I got on the phone again. “Oh, by the way,” I said, “Ryan has something to say to you.”

    Remember, Ryan didn’t talk.

    I put the phone up to Ryan’s ear, held out a tiny piece of candy, mouthed what I wanted him to say, and he said to his mom:

    “I wuff you. . . ” (I love you)

    It’s been a long and challenging road, but Ryan is fine now. My wife and I had to work with Ryan extensively (hours daily) to teach him to talk. He has what’s called Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD), which is something akin to “dyslexia of sound.” He didn’t talk because language is jumbled for some reason, though no one knows the reason. He’s learned to adapt, however, and now he speaks well, has friends and attends school, just like every other kid his age. He also gets straight As.

    The Rescue - audio excerpt

    Book FAQs

    • Is Edenton a real place?

      Yes it is. It’s located in the northeastern section of North Carolina.

    • Is life there the way it is described in the novel?

      Yes. Edenton is a small town with a strong sense of community, a place where it seems that everybody knows everybody.

    • Why didn’t you make Taylor a full-time fireman instead of just a volunteer?

      Because in a town that small, there’s no need for full-time crews. It wouldn’t have been realistic.

    • Why did you use parentheses when Kyle spoke?

      I had a choice there. I could have written Kyle’s dialogue straight, as if he enunciated words in the same way that other characters did; I also could have written it in a form of dialect. Neither option seemed satisfactory, because Kyle’s problem wasn’t only that he had trouble speaking, but the words he did speak were spoken poorly. Conventional phrasing alone wouldn’t have captured that. Had I written in dialect, it probably would have proved unnecessarily distracting. My own feeling is that dialect should be used sparingly in literature. Instead, I opted to write it straight, with how it actually sounded put in parentheses.

    • The opening scene was different from any other opening scene you’d written to date because it was highly suspenseful. Why did you do it that way?

      The three requirements of a love story are originality, universality, and plot and characters that are interesting enough to hold the reader’s attention. By originality, I mean that all elements have to be original, including such relatively minor points as how the characters first meet, what they do on dates, how their relationship unfolds, etc. Originality doesn’t simply preclude what other authors have written, it also precludes what I’ve written in previous novels, as well as what audiences have seen in other mediums, including films and television, which is the reason this genre is so challenging. At the same time, each story must be universal enough that people could imagine it happening to them. Since the search-and-rescue scenario was both original and interesting, this was how I chose to have the characters meet. It had the added benefit of creating suspense and drama in the opening pages.

    • How much research did you do with regard to firefighting?

      Enough to write about it as accurately as possible.

    • Help! After reading your novel, I realized that I know a child like Kyle. What can you recommend that I do? Where can I find information?

      Denise worked with Kyle in exactly the way that my wife and I worked with our son. Since I’m not a doctor, I can’t tell you what you should do with the child you know, nor can I diagnose him as definitively suffering from Kyle’s condition, CAPD. I can only tell you that our son is fine now—but his recovery required a great deal of time and effort (hours per day of home therapy). If the child you know is diagnosed with CAPD, further information can be found on the Internet and in most comprehensive child development books; I would recommend reading as much as you can about the disorder.

    • Are the two books that Denise mentions in the novel real books?

      Yes. Let Me Hear Your Voice by Catherine Maurice and Late Talking Children by Thomas Sowell were among the most helpful books I consulted when formulating the best way to work with my own son. Although my own methods and routines departed significantly from those discussed in the above-mentioned titles—every child is different—I recommend them both.

    • Why did Mitch have to die?

      Taylor needed something to push him into finally accepting the truth about himself. Denise leaving him wasn’t enough to do that, nor was the realization that he wouldn’t see Kyle anymore. To keep Taylor’s character coherent, it had to be something terrible and dramatic. Mitch’s death, sad as it was, led to Taylor’s rescue.

    • Have film rights to The Rescue been sold?

      Not at this time.

    • Did you use the “Apple method” discussed in The Rescue with your son, Ryan?

      Yes, I did. If you want more information, you can read Three Weeks with my Brother. I devote quite a few pages to the specifics.