But before I go into raptures... here's a quick synopsis from Goodreads.
Dear Mr. Knightley is a contemporary epistolary novel with a delightful dash of Jane Austen. 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.First off.... SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!! Sorry, not sorry. If you want a non spoiler review though here it is. Basically if you love Jane Austen and classic literature you'll probably love this book too.
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.
Now on to spoilers!
I've had pretty good luck with the Jane Austen spin offs that I've dared to pick up because I've been pretty selective. This was no exception. I've also heard that it's kind of a re-write of Daddy-Long-Legs but I've never read it... however from the synopsis I read it does look similar. What I was excited about though was all of the Austen references... from the title right through to the end they were everywhere. I LOVED IT!!! There were also references to the Bronte sisters, Dumas and other classic works but the majority of references were definitely Austen. I think someone who wasn't a big fan of classic literature might think it was too heavy handed or perhaps get lost but I really enjoyed them. I quote books and movies all day long so I found Samantha quite relatable in that respect. The parts of the book that had to do with her life as a foster child or Kyle's (a teenaged friend who has also been in the foster care system) I found very real and touching. There's a lot to say in the book about how hard it is to open up about one's past... especially if it was hard. It's risky being vulnerable. As someone who came from a "normal" family upbringing I can't imagine what Samantha and other kids in the system go through. While I did like Sam for the most part sometimes she irked me. I could definitely understand what Hannah was thinking throughout the book. Sometimes I wanted to take her by the shoulders and say OBVIOUSLY JOSH IS TERRIBLE!!! BREAK UP WITH HIM!!! I get why she started dating him I get why she stuck around for awhile.... sometimes the idea of dating someone.... especially when you never have before.... is so idealized that you want to experience it enjoy it... blinded to the fact that you're in the relationship with the wrong person. Never be in a relationship just for the sake of being in a relationship! I was just surprised she stuck around so long especially when there were so many warning signs. I started to suspect he was cheating on her not long before they broke up so wasn't surprised at all. Anyways, at that point I REALLY wanted her to break up with him so she could MARRY ALEX INSTEAD!!!!! DUH!
Let's talk about Alex.... I like him! He doesn't question Sam's oddness. He's sweet and understanding. He likes literature and is even a writer to boot! All of these great things! But he's also kind of reserved and seems to have his own secrets. When he open up about his father and his family I assumed that was it. I didn't really expect him to be SPOILERS our own Dear Mr. Knightley! I'd had various theories about the identity of Mr. Knightley throughout the book varying in their imaginativeness but I discarded the idea of it being Alex because it just seemed to ludicrous. Boy was I wrong! Overall I felt bad for him.... it kind of got out of hand.... they ran in to each other and became friends before either really knew what had happened. It was sweet, and adorable... but he should have told her long before he finally did. It ended up just hurting them both. How do you explain something like that though? I can't even begin to imagine. Frankly I feel bad for him. What an awkward situation! It's kind of funny and weird to think about all the times she was writing about him to him not knowing it was him. Talk about messed up... and funny!
All's well that ends well though... and it did end well. :)
Now that I'm past the mushy stuff (or am I? I just love it!!!!) I can talk about a couple of the other secondary characters. I really liked Mr. and Mrs. Muir. If I didn't have my own amazing parents I'd want them to come adopt me ASAP!!!! I especially loved the Christian aspects they added to the novel. I didn't feel like it was too heavy handed (which happens so easily too often). Speaking of Christian aspects let's expound on that. Samantha isn't at all religious starting out but throughout the influence of the Muir's it seems by the end she is definitely headed that way. She worries often about whether or not she's a prude because she's never slept with a guy and keeps turning down Josh's offers. I really liked what Hannah said about that when they had that phone conversation. I'm so glad that despite her not being religious at that point, Sam didn't go down that road ever because it kept the book nice and clean. I want to hand it to my little sister and that makes it easier. There is some kissing though and sex is mentioned in the context that Sam is unwilling to sleep with Josh. It was refreshing to get this clean perspective in a novel especially one that's not overtly Christian. I didn't expect it and definitely appreciated it. Thank you Katherine Reay!
I also liked Sam's friends Ashley and Debbie. You got to know Ashley more and it was interesting to see her develop on the pages. I think part of her development though was Sam getting to know her better so her first impressions evolved. I'd love a sequel devoted to Ashley because I don't feel like we get a proper conclusion to her story.
I'm not sure what else to say about this book except I LOVED IT and was so pleasantly surprised by it. I started it Saturday while I was at work and had a little downtime. I finished it Monday, reading feverishly fast not wanting to put it down for a second. Once Alex was introduced I loved it even more and could not stop reading it! Sure it was kind of mushy and admittedly more mushy than I would normally go for but I loved it nonetheless. It was such a refreshing change of pace and now I'm excited to read more of Katherine Reay's novels. I haven't been this excited about a newer book in a long time. I'm not giving it a stars rating.... I'm giving it a hearts rating. FOUR HEARTS!!!! Sorry.... five hearts are for the very greatest books like Pride and Prejudice and you can't give a spinoff the same stars as the original.... or can you? I'd give it four and a half hearts but then I'm breaking hearts and that seems a little ridiculous! So.... FOUR HEARTS!!!!!
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