REMEMBER HOW in The NeverEnding Story, a boy reads a mysterious book that comes to life before his eyes, plunging him into a thrilling adventure in an alternate universe?

Watching a new movie from Nicholas Sparks, the romance author whose film adaptations are constantly slithering into multiplexes, is kinda like that, if instead of a badass adventure story with flying dog-dragons, you fell into a fancy plate with an inspirational quote on it. One of those cutesy snow globes that moms in the '90s used to collect. A cotton ad, populated by pretty, bland people who have nothing to do than retell the same antiquated stories about love and commitment. While the forms of these stories may change—sometimes there are rodeo cowboys, sometimes there are ghosts, always there are white people who are super DTF—they're all molded from the same raw material, which is a pinkish Sculpey blend of heteronormativity and sneaky Christian undertones.

Based on my extensive, in-depth research, here's a quick guide to the metaphorical landscape of Nicholas Sparks films. Print it out and keep it in your wallet.

Birds flying over a marsh: The poignant fragility of human connection.

Ocean tide going out: Death comes for us all in the end...

Ocean tide coming in: ...but true love lives forever.

Boats, motorcycles, being charming: Guy stuff.

Nagging, cooking, being annoying: Girl stuff.

Dead mom: Boner problems

Christians: Don't make a big deal about it or anything, but definitely God's chosen people.

Jews: What is jew

Atheists: They'll come around.

Unicorns: Well-developed female characters (psych, there are no unicorns in these movies)

Frosty Budweisers: Good times :D

Car accidents: Bad times :(

The particulars of this month's Nicholas Sparks experience, The Choice, hardly matter (there's a handsome Southern gent, a shrewy girl next door, a love story wrenched by tragedy, and a peculiar refusal to engage with the inevitability of death). What does matter is the way the stars twinkle over the ocean. The sound of waves lapping at the shore. The way sun shines on perfectly conditioned hair. The little moments that make up the... fabric of our lives.