Friday, May 20, 2016
Dear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine Reay
As soon as I saw Dear Mr. Knightley, for some reason I had this knowing sense that it and I were meant to be.
After finishing up the first draft of War of Honor (currently letting that precious baby sleep for a while, before I roust it out for its first round of editing), I pulled up my Kindle and dove into Dear Mr. Knightley. It was one of those delightfully impulse decisions, and I'm thrilled to say I read the whole thing in one day.
One day. The joys of being off a deadline.
The Book (from Goodreads)
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.
There are a wide variety of relationships in this story, many of which are fantastic, but by far my favorite relationships were Sam and the Muir couple, and Sam and Alex Powell. Professor Muir is retired, and he and Mrs. Muir give Sam a taste of the family she never had. I would love to have dinner at their house. They were safe and fun mentors for her.
As for Sam and Alex...he's kind, gentlemanly, a good conversationalist, and a great comrade. I loved their talk of writing, and their visits to the different Chicago restaurants. It made me hungry for that kind of fellowship, that kind of personal care. Their relationship is built on an authentic friendship that shares the deep and the small joys with gusto. It's good to read stories that mirror that, and give you something good to aspire too. I love the way Alex texts her, takes her out, and sometimes gets grumpy and apologizes. :) While I'm not sure either Sam or Alex are believers, their hearts grow more open, and they are in good hands with the Muirs to continue witnessing to them. I found the honest portrayal of both characters to be moving and inspiring. This book is about coming out of our hiding places and taking off our masks with friends, coworkers, family, spouses, and everyone who loves us. As that's something I've been learning, that really resonated with me.
There were only a couple of things I didn't care for. Sam's boyfriend Josh keeps pressuring her to spend the night at his apartment. Sam is not a believer, neither is Josh, so I think that was a fair and accurate thing to put in. It was appropriately and biblically resolved, but still, I wouldn't want it to be in every book I read. There was a plot line with someone who assaulted Sam that I wish could have been resolved. I had suspicions all through the book, only to find it never really came to a conclusion. Also, the last scene had some abrupt emotion swings which took just a touch of the magic off the conclusion, but I still enjoyed it.
The thing I appreciated most about this story was Sam's faith journey. It's slow and subtle. It's natural, and feels very real for how someone in her life circumstances might have felt and processed things. She has a messy background, and the pain and confusion that left her were well captured. Reay leaves us in a good place, but with plenty of room for Sam to continue growing.
This was an endearing story, perfect to curl up when I needed some TLC and was in the mood for something sweet.
Have you read Dear Mr. Knightley? What did you think of it?