Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

This debut novel is an excellent work. It is fashioned after Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster and, while it does not require a love of the works of Jane Austen, would be especially enjoyed by Austen fans. The author’s use of Austen quotations at times is brilliant, and at those times it is as if an Austen fan entered a room of slightly distorted mirrors, simultaneously able to see both the original and the slight distortions in the reflection. The only downside to patterning this book after Webster’s work is that from the start, readers of that predecessor know the denouement. The main character, Samantha, is well written and eminently likable, making perfect sense to the reader. Her closest friends are well crafted. The character and story line surrounding Cara, though, seemed contrived and unnecessary, as if to drive home the point of what might have become of Samantha, whose interest in and pull towards Cara seemed borne of guilt rather than caring, making their interactions beyond the first one ring false. Cara accurately reflects that discomfort, and while the course of all the other relationships can probably be predicted, the one with Cara is left completely unresolved, in large part because of the shakiness of the continuing motivations of both characters. Issues around the child welfare system are embedded deeply into the book’s themes, giving it both a darker and richer feel than Webster’s works. The author does a masterful job of incorporating the effects of child neglect and abandonment into some of the main characters in a way that make their challenges make sense and come alive. For those who have never had any exposure to the child welfare system, it will be a bit of an education. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

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