Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Dear Mr. Knightley.

Ever since I first stumbled across Katherine Reay's debut novel, Dear Mr. Knightley, I knew I wanted to read it. The cute cover, intriguing title, and the promise of Austen references made me fairly confident that I would like this book.
But I didn't expect to absolutely adore it. Imagine my surprise when I found myself drawn in right from the beginning. If I wasn't reading this book, I kept thinking about how much wanted to be reading it. It kept me up past my bedtime (and as much as I love to read, I also love my routine and sleep, so it's rare that a book keeps me up :). It made me smile and cry...multiple times. Sometimes a book just unexpectedly leaves a huge impression on you, and that's what happened to me with this one. It's definitely one of the best books I've read this year.
Though Dear Mr. Knightley is a character-driven story, the plot itself was interesting. It's a modern retelling of the novel Daddy-Long-Legs, by Jean Webster. I wasn't familiar with that story...I had heard of it but never read it or seen the film. So I was a bit surprised by a twist in the plot towards the end. The thought had crossed my mind, but I was surprised because I didn't expect it to actually happen. As for the modernization of the plot and setting (Daddy-Long-Legs was published in 1912), I thought it was done really well. There were lots of references to modern things, like texting and the Internet and such, but the book didn't feel "contemporary." It felt timeless, exactly like a classic story retold in modern times should.
And as for the characters...wow. Sam, the main character, isn't always likable. You can't really blame her, with the life she's had up until this point! As more and more information about her past emerges, you start to see why she is the way she is. But I could relate to Sam in so many ways. I felt like I really connected with her character. I'm awkward and sometimes don't anticipate how other people will react to things. I'm guilty of being too absorbed in fictional worlds and characters. I don't use Jane Austen quotes to express myself, but if you're in a conversation with me for any length of time, the chances are that some book or movie reference will be made. And to be completely honest, I'm also guilty of building walls around myself to shut people out, because I'm afraid or because I don't want to get hurt or for other more trivial reasons. It's not like I have a reason or excuse to be that way, as Sam does, but I'm a quiet and introverted person anyway and it's just harder for me to open up about important things. I loved seeing Sam's journey and how she had changed by the end of the book.

There were so many great supporting characters as well...Alex Powell and Kyle and the Muirs and Alex Powell. Alex. Did I mention him? Ha. :) I was smitten with him from the moment that he and Sam ran into each other (literally). I loved how their friendship slowly grew.

I feel like I haven't done a very good job of explaining why this book is so incredible. In the spirit of Sam, I have to say that, "If I loved this book less, I might be able to talk about it more." :) And there's so much to love here: an intriguing plot, lots of classic literature references mixed in with some pop culture ones, wonderful characters, some drama, and a certain unique quality that I can't quite put my finger on. Dear Mr. Knightley comes highly recommended from me!

Samantha Moore has always hidden behind the words of others—namely, her favorite characters in literature. Now, she will learn to write her own story—by giving that story to a complete stranger. Sam is, to say the least, bookish. An English major of the highest order, her diet has always been Austen, Dickens, and Shakespeare. The problem is, both her prose and conversation tend to be more Elizabeth Bennet than Samantha Moore.

But life for the twenty-three-year-old orphan is about to get stranger than fiction. An anonymous, Dickensian benefactor (calling himself Mr. Knightley) offers to put Sam through Northwestern University’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism. There is only one catch: Sam must write frequent letters to the mysterious donor, detailing her progress.

As Sam’s dark memory mingles with that of eligible novelist Alex Powell, her letters to Mr. Knightley become increasingly confessional. While Alex draws Sam into a world of warmth and literature that feels like it’s straight out of a book, old secrets are drawn to light. And as Sam learns to love and trust Alex and herself, she learns once again how quickly trust can be broken.

Reminding us all that our own true character is not meant to be hidden, Reay’s debut novel follows one young woman’s journey as she sheds her protective persona and embraces the person she was meant to become. - Summary from Booksneeze

*Note: I received this book for free from Booksneeze in exchange for an honest review.*

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