Dear Mr. Knightley is a new drama and romance gem in the world of Christian fiction. The debut novel of author Katherine Reay, it tells the story of orphan Samantha Moore in an epistolary format — through all of and her struggles and accomplishments during graduate school in Chicago.
Isn’t that cover just adorable!!
Unlike a typical novel, where the reader is afforded the perspectives of many characters of the story, the story unfolds in Dear Mr. Knightley from the perspective of Samantha – known to those around her as “Sam” — all through letters. These letters are addressed to the mysterious Mr. Knightley, a benefactor whose foundation has funded her graduate studies at the Medill School of Journalism. This format allows the reader to see candid glimpses into Sam’s life, but only through details her character reveals. In this way, she gradually reveals her past and personality through snippets of her history and experiences. The viewpoint of the story is totally unique. I love the way Sam’s character is candid about most things, but reveals details about her past vaguely and slowly.
Sam grew up in and out of the foster system, seeking refuge between families at Grace House, an orphanage for children and young adults still in college. Upon the recommendation of Father John, the administrator of Grace House, Samantha is rewarded a grant from the Dover Foundation to attend graduate school – with one condition. Samantha must write journal-style letters to Mr. Knightley updating him on her progress in school or any other matters she feels compelled to share. Though at first very reluctant, Sam begins to share her heart and her feelings through her one-way communications.
During her time at Medill, Sam meets the famous author Alex Powell. His friendship reveals insights into Sam’s character and introduces her to people who become prominent positive influences in her life. Additionally, Alex has secrets from his past which he is reluctant to share with anyone. These secrets have the potential to harm his friendship with Sam and change the course of her life.
Reay infuses characters and quotes from classic literature. Jane Austen is the prominent author, but other famous authors such as Charlotte Bronte and Alexandre Dumas are included, too. Books were Sam’s escape from reality growing up. She would get lost in a fictional world and enjoy the happiness and triumphs of the characters. As an adult, Sam has still maintained an invisible wall separating her from intimate relationships or friendships for fear of emotional pain. Book quotes and references pour from her lips at various times; often when she is not sure what to say, or when she wants to withdraw from a conversation. These characters have become a crutch Sam unknowingly depends on.
When a literature reference is made, additional context and explanations are briefly included so that an unfamiliar reader is not left out. I’m familiar with most of the characters – if I’ve not read the book, I’ve probably seen the movie. It was so neat to see how Katherine referred to situations in classic novels which paralleled Sam’s life, too.
Sam’s character is realistically flawed and carries emotional baggage from her past. Her past haunts her, she has clear self-esteem issues, and she is afraid to let people in. After making new friends and acquaintances through her graduate studies, her character grows and new light is shed on her past struggles. A common theme revealed through Sam’s experiences is the importance of love and trust – and that it is okay to be vulnerable. Her character illustrates the human tendency to vacillate between extreme doubt and complete self assurance, while in reality Christ wants to be the steady anchor.
This is most definitely a novel I will put on my “to-be-REread” shelf!
For another great review and interview with Katherine Reay, visit Rissi’s blog post at Dreaming Under the Same Moon.
Note: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com® <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.