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.
Bubby: I have a confession to make. I was absolutely sure that I knew exactly what this novel was about before I ever cracked it open. I knew, because of the title, that it was some sort of modern riff on the works of Jane Austen – probably some sappy romance where the female protagonist is desperately looking for her “Dear Mr. Knightley.” I was ever so wrong. So incredibly wrong. (And if Sissy tries to tell you that she didn’t make the same pre-judgment, she’s lying. She totally did.) Dear Mr. Knightley is actually based on the book and movie Daddy Long Legs. The Austen reference only comes about because our heroine, Samantha, is obsessed with classic literature and her nameless benefactor chooses a name she can relate to.
Sissy: As Bubby has implied, I too was caught unawares by Dear Mr. Knightley. I was actually disappointed at first because I was in the mood for some light-hearted Austen-esque frippery. And what I got was rather deep subject matter. Samantha (better know as Sam) is one messed up chick. I always wonder, in stories where the protagonist has to recover from such deep, dark issues, is if they really can maintain the happy ending. I suspect in true life that the continuation of a happy ending requires a lot of hard work and sometimes years of therapy. How’s that for being a Debbie Downer?
Bubby: One can always count on you to lower the mood in the room, Sissy. I agree that most book happy endings are rather unrealistic, but I think that this one might actually work. Sam has gone through lots of counseling in her 23 years and I think that by the time the book ends, she’s in a really good place. All sorts of good things have finally happened for her (I’d elaborate, but you know. Spoilers!) and she’s been able to lay down a lot of the baggage she’s been carrying for so long. I’m glad her birth parents are dead, though. Otherwise I’d have a strong desire to hunt them down and give them a taste of their own medicine. Hurting children is evil and abhorrent and I have no tolerance for it. I think that there’s a special place in hell for child abusers and molesters!
Sissy: Amen, sista-friend!
Bubby: Never say that again. You’re too old and uncool to pull it off.
Sissy: I’ll say what I want. You’re not the boss of me. Most of the story is told through detailed letters between Sam and Mr. Knightley. Sam completely opens up in such a beautiful way to Mr. Knightley. Her thoughts and feelings are so well portrayed. The prose is outstanding. There’s a young secondary character named Kyle who I loved and cheered for. He really tugs on your heartstrings and he also changes Sam in ways she never would have without knowing him. There is an age difference between the romantic leads in this story but it’s small, especially compared to the leads in the movie Daddy Long Legs. We just watched the trailer for it on you tube out of curiosity and I’ve got to say that I’ve never before thought of Fred Astaire as a creepy stalker till now. The tone is quite different between that movie and this book. Sorry, Fred. Watch it here for a little dose of disturbing.
Bubby: As usual, the book is better. Now you might be thinking that Dear Mr. Knightley is a deep, dark, depressing tale of child abuse and suffering and wondering why on earth we’re reviewing it. Yes, there is some talk about child abuse and the life-long suffering it causes. But this book is about redemption. It’s about forgiving oneself and moving on. It’s liberally sprinkled with humor, romance and characters that instantly felt like family. Was it difficult to read? Sometimes, yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely.
Sissy: I agree with Bubby. Even though Samantha hid her true self behind the quotes and lives of classic literary figures, that made her conversation all the more entertaining. Her journey for the most part is positive, with only flashbacks to things more dark, and so the story arc in Dear Mr. Knightley just gets better and better. The romance that comes to pass is lovely and the life lessons imparted are heartwarming and valuable. Bubby is a better person for having read Dear Mr. Knightley!
Click HERE to buy Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay