***Major Spoiler Alert*** AWTR the book and movie are really two very different stories. Anyone thinking in terms of the movie replicating the book will be sorely disappointed. The eras are different (1950s versus the 1990s), and the people are different. What was considered juvenile behavior during the 1950s would not relate to what would be considered bad behavior during the 1990s, so the pranks in the movie were updated to be more relevant to a modern audience. It should be noted that Nicholas Sparks, author of the book, was very much "on-board" with the making of the movie, and collaborated with screenwriter Karen Janszen in converting the book to a movie.
Both the movie and book present similar themes from quite different storylines. Each has its own captivating presentation and exceptionally beautiful, heartfelt moments. As a book and movie are very different mediums, each should be enjoyed for its own story and not compared in terms of what was included, left out, or changed in one versus the other. Some aspects of stories are better presented in words (with minimal limitations) whereas other aspects are better conveyed on screen. They're simply two different but wonderful stories. What follows examines the major differences between the book version and the movie version.
The movie Jamie had brown hair, mostly worn in a ponytail. The book Jamie was a blonde, styled mostly in a tight bun. The school play in the book was a December Christmas play, whereas the movie version was a spring play set in the prohibition era. Landon voluntarily signed up for the play in the book, but in the movie he was forced into it as part of his "sentence" for facilitating the injury of a fellow student. In the book's school play Jamie played an angel, but her role in the movie was that of a chanteuse (female singer, especially in a night club). She sang in the movie, not in the book. Jamie volunteered at an orphanage in the book, but in the movie she tutored students at a junior high school.
Jamie in the book was a good student but very reserved with few, if any, friends. She was upset that people thought she was strange or different. She was not particular adept at picking up social cues to determine peoples' true attitudes towards her, and when she was treated badly, she remained totally silent. She never said anything bad or negative about anyone - only seeing the good in everyone. She possessed a lack of confidence in herself, often being unsure of what to say in many circumstances. She projected her religious beliefs much more in the book than the movie. Every event, every circumstance was "in the Lord's plan," and she'd often follow that phrase up with "what do you think the message is?"
Jamie in the movie possessed much more spirit and carried herself with abounding confidence. She was much more engaging, joined clubs, had friends (though not in-crowd, or cool friends), had much more attitude and would not take any disingenuousness from anyone - often "firing" right back when being mocked or ridiculed. She was a strong, highly intelligent figure that saw right through the behavior and demeanor of her peers. Despite being mercilessly teased at school, she liked who she was, the way she was and could care less what other people thought about her - her self-image was not based on the opinion of others.
The book Landon was never really bad at all, just a few childish pranks while growing up. He was somewhat unfocused early on in the book but not at all the mean-spirited person Landon initially was in the movie. At his father's insistence, he ran for and became his high school's student-body president - something the movie Landon would not be caught dead doing. He knew he wanted to go to college and even knew which one, whereas the movie Landon had no aims or goals beyond high school. He (in the movie) was selfish, aimless and reckless until Jamie's influence began to show him possibilities in life he never contemplated before, and he began to find a new path for his own life.
In the book Landon and Jamie spent most of their time together after school often at Jamie's house just visiting and talking - falling in love very gradually. Once Jamie's terminal illness was known, Landon was initially uncomfortable being with Jamie, fearing anything he would say or do might offend her. He decided to read the Bible, and once he did, he discovered he could comfortably discuss it with Jamie to both their liking. In the movie Landon and Jamie dated and experienced several heartfelt romantic moments together and fell in love rather quickly. Once Jamie's illness was known in the movie, Landon remained steadfast by her side, learned to dance for her, and as she became sicker, built a large telescope for her so she could see a comet she wanted to see.
In the book, Landon's friends simply made fun of his attraction to Jamie, and often teased him, even when he denied that he liked Jamie. They never ridiculed Jamie to her face, knowing that she was a better person than all of them. If anything, they were intimidated by her. They did not want to get on her "wrong side" as they felt she had an "in" with God. In the movie Landon and his friends did mock, ridicule and humiliate Jamie to her face, but she remained above-it-all, defending herself and, at times, mocking them right back. Once Landon's strong attraction to Jamie became obvious to his (movie) friends, they made a strong effort to split them up.
In the book Landon's parents were married (though his father was a politician and away much of the time). In the movie Landon's father was a cardiologist who had left the family and remarried. During the wedding, the book Jamie was much sicker and needed considerable assistance from a nurse and a wheelchair to make it through the ceremony. During the movie's wedding, Jamie's leukemia was in remission, and she required no assistance, being able to walk and stand by herself throughout the ceremony. At the end of the book, it's left to the reader whether Jamie lives or dies, but in the movie she definitely passes away.