Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay | Book Review
Dear Mr. Knightley tells the picturesque story of a young woman named Samantha who is not only an orphan, but a girl who’s made – nearly – one mistake too many. After attempting to make it on her own, she’s forced to return to the safety of Grace House, the place she grew up in and try earning back the scholarship offered by a mysterious benefactor who is known to her only as “Mr. Knightley.” When the man agrees to reinstate Sam’s scholarship, the only stipulation he asks is that she write him letters detailing her progress. During her year of journaling through letters, Sam learns the meaning of independence, self-worth and maybe… even love.
Jane Austen inspires thousands of contemporary pieces of candied fiction – both literary and cinematic. New author Katherine Reay uses the popularity of Austen-esque inspiration and crafts her story into a magnificently unique novel. One of 2013’s debut authors, already Katherine has established herself as a name to keep an eye on.
In ‘Mr. Knightley,’ readers go on an emotional journey of hope, healing and finding home. I have to be honest, when I was ready to read the book, in my typical reading habitual, I’d paged through the novel and read the author note prior to seriously reading it, and my opinion wasn’t were I wanted it to be.
This traces back to one thing – the style in which the book is written. Aside from an epilogue, the story is told, not just in the first person but entirely through letters, and it was a context that made me read with trepidation. Nonetheless I went through with reading and oh my, what a treat Dear Mr. Knightly was. These are the best kind of novels.
Maybe that’s what love is—sacrificing yourself to save another, taking the insult or taking the hit.” – Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay
Ripping up the “rules” for a usual contemporary novel, Reay reinvented the familiarity of the genre. All of the important key elements are there only with a new “twist.” Beyond the inventive uses of prose and characters, there’s also a beautiful realism to the story. Told elegantly through its heroine’s letters (something that I am a sucker for
people getting to know each other through letters), the book is also chocked full of fun pop culture references, all of which left me giggling and each one blends seamlessly with the old-fashioned concept balancing with the witty, sharp literature references – everything from C.S. Lewis to Bronte. (And, this also seems the opportune moment to say how much I lovelovelove the Eloise reference – not sure that could be used to a better advantage.)
Samantha is a character easy to relate to, not necessarily because of her sad past but because she is scared to step outside her comfort zone; she’s afraid that she’s capable of doing something worth anyone’s notice. Those of us who have ever dreamed of doing something that requires criticism or opening ourselves up to others will understand this – we’ve all struggled with being accepted or emotional around someone, and in reading this, Samantha was less “figment” and much more, real. In more instances than one I was both sympathetic, and felt a connection with her. As if she and I shared the same insecurities or worries that life throws our way.
Above all, those qualities give this debut its crowning glory; it’s not just an expert piece of fiction, it becomes very “real.” What Reay does for her heroine is strip her of all her protective shields so that Sam can find her own “voice”; and stand out to be the person she truly is.