Dear Mr. Knightley
Author: Katherine Reay
Paperback: 317 pages (my version eBook)
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Published date: 2013
FTC: Checked out ebook from library
Towards the end of last year I was sent an ARC copy of a book that had been on my to-read list. It was Katherine Reay's second novel Lizzy & Jane. I loved the premise and for some reason the covers just captured me. I had remembered reading about Dear Mr. Knightley and that it had received great reviews and I liked the Jane Austen homage in both books. I decided I had to check out her first book first before I could read Lizzy & Jane.
I am so glad I did because I am now a Katherine Reay fan. -- Which is awesome because I was offered the chance to interview her AND have a giveaway. Through miscommunication I was hoping to have it around Christmas but I think these books would be perfect gifts to give a bookish person for Valentine's Day.
Stick around for my review of Lizzy & Jane, the interview with Katherine Reay, and a giveaway!
Back of the Book:
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.
I absolutely loved how Katherine Reay wrote this novel as a series of letters. For the most part they are diary type reflections sent from Sam to her unknown patron who asks for anonymity and goes by Mr Knightley. I thought it was insightful of Reay to make Sam unleash her thoughts in diary/letter form. Her character is so introverted due to her background but since she would lose herself in books and wanted to be a writer, it was the perfect venue for her. Some might think that it wouldn't be plausible for someone to divulge diary type feelings to someone they don't know but I think that was the point. She was writing to someone who wouldn't respond, would never meet, or hear back from.
I really connected with Sam as the heroine of her story. She had such a rough background that she sheltered herself by living through books. Almost literally. When nervous she'd quote from books and compare real life people to characters in her book. This was definitely a wall she put up around herself to protect herself from reality. I read some reviews on Goodreads who didn't like Sam or thought her introverted and sort of sheltered viewpoint wasn't realistic. I totally disagree. I thought her defense totally plausible and loved that she was flawed. She was irritating a lot, made mistakes, and was completely self-focused a lot. But she grew. And isn't that what we want when we read? I also liked that she was a runner, which totally fit her character. Running can be a solitary sport where a lot of people (myself included) can spend time thinking and unraveling thoughts. It made sense that this aspiring writer who was so trapped in her head would enjoy running. While there is a love story involved, I enjoyed that the novel was really a coming-of-age tale where Sam has to get over letting her past define herself and come to know who she really is.
While the novel has a Jane Austen's Emma reference (which totally makes sense when you read the book) it's actually a modern re-telling of a book written in 1912 by Jean Webster called Daddy-Long-Legs. I've heard this is a really amazing book and I'm going to have to check it out. I've only ever seen the old Fred Astaire/Leslie Caron movie.
When I finished Dear Mr. Knightley I immediately picked up Lizzy & Jane which is a modern story of two sisters. Yep. I'm a Katherine Reay fan.