December 9, 2013

Write Me A Letter

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

Release Date: September 5, 2013
Publisher: Thomas Nelson Publishers
Pages: 328 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)

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 classmate 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.

Thoughts on Dear Mr. Knightley
Oh, this book. I had such high hopes for it, and then they all came crashing down. This definitely makes my list of most disappointing reads of the year, which makes me so sad. It sounded like something I would have loved! In fact, when the formatting on my NetGalley copy was really wonky, I decided to just buy a hard copy. That's how much I expected to love it.

Here are the four reasons Dear Mr. Knightley just didn't work for me:

1. The Premise.
This book is a retelling of Daddy-Long-Legs, which I read and loved earlier this year. I wasn't sure how the book would translate into a modern retelling, and I think my concerns were ultimately justified. Sam receives a full-ride scholarship from a mysterious benefactor to a graduate school journalism program. That sounds fine, except Sam doesn't pick the program, doesn't really want to apply and barely qualifies for a spot. I felt like it became too much of a suspension of disbelief to buy into the idea that she would accept such a specific offer when it wasn't really what she wanted for her life... and to believe that she would actually get in to the prestigious program in such a short time period and without really having the necessary background.

2. The Letters.
Having read Daddy-Long-Legs, I knew this book would be in an epistolary format and would be almost solely from Sam's perspective. It worked really well in Daddy-Long-Legs, so I was hoping I'd find it as charming in this modern retelling. Sadly, it just didn't work for me. Almost immediately, Sam begins writing really in-depth letters to this mysterious benefactor. First of all, almost no one I know writes such long letters recounting every minute detail of their day WITH long stretches of dialogue. They just don't. Furthermore, if they do, it's not to a complete and total stranger. Mr. Knightley never responds to Sam's letters, so there's not even a natural development of a relationship where it would make sense to share more. I know that it's often easier to share things on paper than in person, but I still felt like the letters were so unrealistic. You don't share that kind of information without some sort of trust built up, and that definitely didn't take place in this book.

3. The Heroine.
The majority of my issues with the book are due to the heroine, Samantha Moore. She has a terrible childhood, has grown up in the foster care system and has secrets in her past that even those closest to her don't know. She's turned to books and imaginary characters for comfort and has become completely and totally disconnected from the world around her.

Even with her rough past, she still manages to be more naive than even I could believe. There were times she came across as just legitimately stupid, and I didn't understand how someone who had supposedly lived on the streets could be this sheltered from reality. Don't those seem like major contradictions? In addition to her dark past, she was also held up at gunpoint while at work (prior to start of the book) and then attacked while taking public transit in the beginning of the book. I mean, really?

She seemed totally oblivious to the feelings of the people around her, and her interactions with others felt so weird and forced. Not to mention the fact that you're reading about them in a letter she's writing to a total stranger. Again, I just couldn't buy into that at all. The fact that she's so unaware of the world around her and unable to connect to the people in her life made it really hard for me to believe that she had any potential as a journalist.

She also constantly quotes from classics - really obscure and random quotes, too. And when I say quotes, I mean she legitimately uses them in conversation with people. As a way to reply to them. The extent to which she did it and the way it happened just made me kind of sad, to be honest. It was like she didn't even have her own personality - she just borrowed words from other characters. She was so melodramatic, comparing her reality to the fictional people and places where she took refuge, and it made it so difficult to care about her.

I think this was especially frustrating for me because the heroine of Daddy-Long-Legs is such an incredible character. She's feisty, smart, opinionated and has so much personality. I underlined large chunks of that book and would have loved to have spent more time with the character. Since this is an update on that children's classic, I was particularly disappointed that the character in this one wasn't charming or enjoyable.

4. The Romance. Spoilers here so skip the next paragraph if you haven't read the original!
So, Daddy-Long-Legs is partly at fault here, too. In the original, the heroine eventually meets the man she's been writing to without realizing that's who he is and falls in love with him before his true identity is revealed. I found that somewhat unrealistic in the original, but I could overlook it because of the time period. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Dear Mr. Knightley. I couldn't get into the romance AT ALL knowing that her love interest was basically deceiving her throughout their entire relationship. Seriously, just fess up and tell her who you are already! I also have a hard time believing that Sam, who already has trust issues and problems with people, would just forgive and move on. You're really concerned about the fact that the guy you're interested in was lying for the entirety of your friendship/relationship?

I legitimately hate writing a review like this one, especially for a book I thought sounded so promising. In this case, I don't think the connection to Daddy-Long-Legs did this book any favors. It might have been a better read if it wasn't so closely tied to that novel. I am, to be honest, very much in the minority with my review of this book, and it seems to have worked better for other readers. Sadly, it just wasn't the book for me.
*I received a copy of this book from Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated in any way for my review.

6 comments:

  1. Nooooooo the premise of this sounded so good! ...and it sounds like everything I hate summed up in one book. Booooo :(

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    1. I knowwww! The premise sounded SO cute, and then the execution was just not working for me. So disappointed!

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  2. Oh dear! I'm sorry to hear that this book didn't quite work out for you, especially when it sounded so promising. I'm particularly bothered about the way the letters are written (based on how you described it) -- that's a bit hard to believe, with the dialogue and everything.

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    1. I know! The letter thing just made NO sense. People rarely write letters that way, especially not a novel-length number of letters. It was just too unbelievable for me.

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  3. Oh no, that's too bad that this was a major disappointment. I was just browsing through my Good Reads to read shelf and made a not to myself that I wanted to read this book soon. But clearly it isn't worth it.

    Disappointing books are the worst.

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    1. Yeah, I was so excited when I first spotted it online because it looked so cute! I wouldn't recommend it unless you wanted to get it from the library. Agree on disappointing books being the worst.

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