Dear Mr. Knightley: A Novel by Katherine Reay
Some mixed feelings towards this one. It’s a modern retelling of Jean Webster’s book Daddy-Long-Legs (reviewed last week), but that’s only mentioned in the questions for the author at the back of the book. It’d be very easy to miss otherwise if you didn’t already know the DLL connection.
In general, Reay does a nice job of modernizing the story. DLL was cute fluff, but Dear Mr. Knightly adds some grit to the tale, and gives it extra depth – it could work as a book club read, while I don’t think DLL really would. However, that modernization also ends up making the premise behind the story not work so well.
The writing is engaging, and despite knowing how it would end, I was still invested in the book and Sam that I stayed up way too late reading it. And while I side-eyed a few fairly minor plot points, overall I mostly enjoyed it.
I was surprised to find a bit more overt Christian content in it than I originally expected. It’s still a minor part of the story, so if you object to it, I don’t think there’s so much to put you off the book entirely. A couple of times it was a bit clunky in how it was integrated into the text, but it was still fairly minor in annoyance. (Typically I find it incredibly annoying when that sort of content is forced into a storyline, and that’s even when I agree with what they’re saying. This had two or three mildly eye-rolling moments). Halfway through the book it takes a turn and it became surprisingly moralistic in an unbelievable way.
Sam’s reaction at the end of the book was predictable if you know the original book, but still annoyed me. Spoiler alert! Highlight the area below if you don’t mind getting spoiled as to some events.
She’s spent most of the book telling half-truths if not outright lies, hiding information and herself, and then she gets angry when she discovers the identity of “Mr. Knightly”? It felt so hypocritical.
I enjoyed Reay’s writing, and actually enjoyed it the most when she veered away from the original plot lines. I’d happy read her second book, Lizzy and Jane, except for the cancer story-line. Instead I’m holding out for her third book, The Brontë Plot, which releases this November. (It’s also only $4.99 on Kindle right now to pre-order: a great price for a pre-release!)
Dear Mr. Knightley is a contemporary epistolary novel with a delightful dash of Jane Austen.
Samantha Moore survived years of darkness in the foster care system by hiding behind her favorite characters in literature, even adopting their very words. Her fictional friends give her an identity, albeit a borrowed one. But most importantly, they protect her from revealing her true self and encountering more pain.
After college, Samantha receives an extraordinary opportunity. The anonymous “Mr. Knightley” offers her a full scholarship to earn her graduate degree at the prestigious Medill School of Journalism. The sole condition is that Sam write to Mr. Knightley regularly to keep him apprised of her progress.
As Sam’s true identity begins to reveal itself through her letters, her heart begins to soften to those around her—a damaged teenager and fellow inhabitant of Grace House, her classmates at Medill, and, most powerfully, successful novelist Alex Powell. But just as Sam finally begins to trust, she learns that Alex has secrets of his own—secrets that, for better or for worse, make it impossible for Sam to hide behind either her characters or her letters.
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