Dear Mr. Knightley
by Katherine Reay
As you might guess from the title, this is another dip into Austen-inspired fiction. It is the story of Samantha Moore, a survivor of the Chicago foster system, who has found solace and protection by hiding behind her favorite characters from literature (including Austen’s). But now she has been offered a scholarship to journalism school by a charitable foundation, with the condition that she write regular letters to the organization’s founder to keep him apprised of her progress (and help draw her out of her literary shell). It is to be a one-way correspondence, more like a journal, and to preserve privacy/help Sam feel comfortable, she is to address the letters to ‘Mr. Knightley’. That’s a character from Austen’s Emma, if you didn’t know, and pretty much the most unassailably gentlemanlike character in all her works.
Aside from that tie-in, this book is less about Austen or trying to be a modern interpretation of Austen, and more about a broken soul learning to heal and trust again. It’s told almost entirely through letters, up until the last chapter or so. For me, the format really worked. With Sam writing in first person, you get a real connection, and she is very relatable (in personality, if not in life circumstances). The other characters really come to life in her writing, and you get the uniquely vulnerable telling of events that you’d find in a journal, as she tries and fails and sometimes succeeds in overcoming her past and the walls she’s built. I did have a few issues with the very end (mainly in that it ended up being predictable/not surprising) but overall, it’s just a really good story. So don’t let the all-told-in-letters format turn you away.