Although many people may classify A Walk to Remember as a love story, it is, in fact, a classic coming-of-age novel, a genre in which the protagonist undergoes tremendous growth after experiencing either a great adventure or some inner turmoil. In the case of Landon Carter, there is no great adventure — after all, this is not a character who sets out to slay a dragon in order to rescue the princess. But there is great inner turmoil in Landon's life because Jamie Sullivan acts as a mirror in which Landon sees his own behaviors, values, and patterns for the first time and is deeply dismayed by the images he sees.
Landon first notices his own unkindness. When compared to other teenage boys, Landon would not describe himself as the least bit selfish. Certainly, he mocks, laughs at people, and gossips about students, teachers, and townsfolk. But so does everyone else he knows. Landon does not see this as a flaw, per se, but as a trait shared by all teenagers. He is aware of his own unkindness, but he sees it as harmless; in fact, he realizes that he could be so much more cruel, and he prides himself on not crossing an imaginary line he has set for himself. "Gossip is one thing," Landon says, "hurtful gossip is completely another, and even in high school we weren't that mean." What Jamie forces Landon to see, however, is two-fold: First, that those people Landon is gossiping about or mocking are probably aware of his sentiments and are hurt by it. Second, that gossiping and mocking are not required activities for teenagers; after all, Jamie is a teenager who does not participate in these activities.
Landon also recognizes his own apathy and mediocrity. He tends to refer to this trait as "irresponsibility," but that is not really the word that describes Landon's tendency in this area. In fact, Landon has usually tended to do what he is told, shown up when he is supposed to, and otherwise been a responsible student and son. What Landon is not doing, however, is putting much effort into his own life; instead, he is doing only enough to get by. His three best attributes could be considered circus tricks: tying knots; walking barefoot across hot asphalt; and balancing a pencil on his finger. Thus Landon begins to see himself as excelling at a few party tricks while the rest of the world is slipping out of his reach.
Landon also notes a high degree of selfishness in himself, especially when compared with Jamie. Although it is true that nearly everyone would pale in comparison to Jamie's selflessness, Landon notices that how he spends his time and how his parents spend his grandfather's ill-got fortune tend to be for the benefit of themselves instead of for the benefit of others. Jamie, of course, lives for others and does so cheerfully.
Finally, Landon begins to notice that his actions tend to be fueled by resentment, which eventually leads to a disconnectedness from other people. For example, Landon resents that his father isn't present in his life. But instead of reaching out to his father, Landon's lingering resentment causes him to disconnect from his father entirely. Jamie, on the other hand, manages to steer clear of resentment. She feels hurts and wounds just as much as anyone else, but she responds with kindness to those who have hurt her, and they, in turn, begin to change their interactions with her. When Landon lashes out at Jamie, he knows he has hurt her, but instead of lashing back, Jamie simply thanks Landon for walking him home. Had she responded in anger, the two may have remained in their resentment for years.
Ultimately Landon is forced — not by Jamie, but by his own self-awareness and the stark reality of who he is (or is not) — to change his behaviors. Jamie models behaviors that Landon has rarely seen modeled in his immediate circle; in fact, he was unaware that people possessed the sort of qualities he finds in Jamie. Once he discovers these qualities, he aspires to them. Little by little, he grows into a new person, shedding his immature, selfish ways and growing into a kind, gentle, selfless young man.