Landon Carter, the protagonist of A Walk to Remember, comes of age in this novel, progressing from a self-centered teenager who watches life from the sidelines (often making fun of anyone he views as different) to a self-assured young man who places his focus on the welfare of others.
At the beginning of the novel, Landon has been raised to be gentlemanly, is a decent student, and is well-liked by his classmates. He sneaks out to be with his friends — not unlike many teenagers — but these late-night meetings never become overly rowdy. Landon attends church every Sunday, is polite to his parents and teachers, is comfortable wearing a jacket and tie when meeting with adults, is never arrogant about being from one of the wealthiest families in town, and is best friends with the finest athlete in the school. Landon even goes on to be elected student body president. So what, exactly, is so "wrong" with Landon that he needs to grow up?
Technically, nothing. On the surface, Landon is a well-behaved teenager. But underneath the surface, Landon adds very little to the landscape of Beaufort, North Carolina. He invests as little as is required of him, sneers at many of his classmates, uses sarcasm to describe most of the events around him, and gives of his time and energy only when he senses an obvious payback. No one in his life is asking him to be anything more — not his friends, not his parents, and not his teachers. His life's performance is satisfactory, and no one sees any reason to change it. No one, that is, until Jamie Sullivan enters his domain. At that point, Landon begins to compare himself to her, and he finds himself sorely wanting. Jamie is everything he isn't: He's wealthy; she's of modest means. He's popular; she's an outcast. He puts in the least effort possible; she puts in the most she can manage. He has limited self-awareness; she constantly questions her life and her purpose. He believes God wouldn't listen to someone like him; she never loses faith, even in the worst of circumstances. He avoids helping others; she goes out of her way to help creatures of all shapes and sizes.
As a result, Landon's contact with Jamie both frustrates and intrigues him. He marvels that anyone is naturally that good, selfless, and cheerful, at the same time that he feels pressure to be better and guilt over having been less than he could be all these years. It is that pressure and guilt that create an opportunity for Landon to grow, not into just a typical teenage boy but an extraordinary young man. As with all good coming-of-age stories, there is a catalyst for growth (in this case, Jamie), but the growth and development of the character happen, in the end, only because that is what the character wants for himself. No one is forcing Landon to change, but he sees his deficiencies and wants to be better.