Monday, March 17, 2014

Book Review: Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

As a lover of all things Austen, I was excited when I was approved for a copy of Dear Mr. Knightley.  I downloaded it to my Kindle pretty quickly, but then I put off reading it for some unknown reason.  Now I wish I'd read it right away!  It was amazing!  I actually didn't even read the description of the book at all, but I assumed from the cover it would be a light-hearted love story about a girl who is obsessed with Jane Austen and her book Emma.  I was surprised to find that it is much deeper than that.  Even though this is Ms. Reay's first novel, I found in compelling, beautiful and surprisingly dark.
Samantha Moore is twenty-three and an orphan.  She has spent her life bouncing between foster homes and the street, and finally landed at Grace House Settlement Home.  Her life has been hard, and she has taken to hiding behind the characters of her books to shield her from the pain and hurt.  She has buried herself in the pages of Jane Austen, Shakespeare and the Bronte sisters for so long, she barely has any identity apart from them.  Sam graduated college with a journalism degree and got a job, but after being let go, she's back at Grace House again.  Her only way out is a donation from a mysterious benefactor who has agreed to pay for her master's degree at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.  The only stipulation is that she must write letters to the mystery benefactor, who she knows only as "Mr. Knightley."  As she embarks on the 15-month program, all of her hopes, dreams, fears and failures are brought to light in her frequent letters to Mr. Knightley.   She begins to realize how closed off she is from those around her, and tries to open herself to new relationships and experiences.  It is sometimes painful to read about how she views herself and the world because of the pain she's endured.  But she's going to learn that putting aside her insecurities might lead to marvelous new beginning and a bright future. 
I actually sat down and read almost all of this book in less than four hours.  It was that good.  It was great to see Sam grow and change and find herself and her own voice.  I loved the fact that the whole story is written in letters to Mr. Knightley.  It was a unique way to see a character's inner thoughts and emotions in a way that was only one-sided.  All that the reader knows about the various characters, is what Sam sees and thinks.  (Although it is easier to form an opinion of some of them than others.)  I loved that Ms. Reay wasn't afraid to reveal a dark side of the foster-care system and what can happen to foster children when they're grown.
Don't let the flowery cover fool you!  This is not a flowery, happy love story!  Instead it's real and sometimes raw, but absolutely wonderful.  This story was totally original.  I loved the literary references, and added several new books to my "to read" list as I went along.  All in all this was a great read and a perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon!

Happy Reading!

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for this review.  All opinions are my own.

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