Sunday, August 31, 2014

What I Read in August Part II

What I Read in August Part II . . .

Dear Mr. KnightleyDear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay -- Contemporary Fiction/Romance

This book is an update of the classic novel Daddy Long-Legs in which an orphan is given a scholarship by a mysterious benefactor in exchange for writing him about her progress. That much remains the same, but in the modern world, the reality of the main character's life is much grittier and she's much more deeply scarred. Sam Moore has spent her whole life in and out of the foster care system. She's been badly betrayed and abused by those who should care about her. Now she's finished college and about to age out of the group home where she's been living. Then, a foundation offers her a scholarship to study journalism at Northwestern University's prestigious Medill School of Journalism. For Sam, an English literature nut, this is tantamount to torture. The kindly Father John and the mysterious benefactor she knows as "Mr. Knigtley" push her to leave her comfort zone and try journalism. Sam's love of literature is not just a comfort zone, it's her safety net. She retreats into her favorite characters to keep from revealing her real self and getting hurt. Journalism school is tough with the professor constantly on Sam's case about not connecting. Story of her life. She tries though, at least to make friends with girls she sees at first as Emmas. She even manages to find a boyfriend and connect with a teenage boy who is new to Grace House. She also has the opportunity to get to know her favorite contemporary author, Alex Powell, and through him, his loving surrogate parents Professor and Mrs. Muir. Father John encourages forgiveness and the Muirs encourage finding Jesus. Through it all she writes to Mr. Knightley, her anonymous benefactor, about what's truly in her heart. Will she make survive journalism school and can she do it without her walls?

I didn't realize this was a Christian book from the few reviews I read. It's clear right away from the name Grace House and the character of Father John. I didn't find the book super preachy but it does get a bit preachy towards the end and I was forced to skim parts. I think the author may have been going for a Mr. Knightley=priest/God idea. Sam confesses everything to someone who can't/won't reply. That's kind of a little too weird for a novel for my taste. The overall message is one of trust, forgiveness and letting go but it doesn't quite come out that way in the end.

The plot gets rushed at the very end and it's awkward and there's no good reason for Sam to forgive that person. I think more emphasis should have been placed on forgiving her parents as Fr. John wanted her to. The story drags on too long with too much going on. The subplot about Kyle isn't all that necessary. Sam could have found her voice without him. I knew right away where she could find her passion. That much was obvious. Some of the parallels with the original 19th century novel, especially the end, were just too much of a coincidence. I didn't find the love story icky, it's a parallel to Daddy Long-Legs and Emma, though not as paternalistic.

The biggest problem with this story is that is doesn't translate well enough to make the characters appealing. What I love about orphans like Jerusha in Daddy Long-Legs and Anne Shirley and even Freckles, is their eternal optimism and goodness despite horrible childhoods. Sam's life is far grittier and darker than any of the 19th century classic characters could imagine, except perhaps Jane Eyre. Sam has built up walls and retreats behind her favorite characters and that gets very annoying very quickly. I wanted to shake her and get her to not be so cold. She has trust issues but when her trust should be given, she retreats. When she shouldn't trust someone (that total cliche I saw coming a million miles away. It was so obvious a 12 year old figured it out and Sam choose to ignore that fact) she does trust that person. When Alex opened up to her and showed he trusted her, she should have trusted him back. End of story happy happy, but no... she doesn't and she continues to block her emotions. She turns into a weepy basket case at the most inopportune (and might I say boring and pointless) moment. I felt for her but I wanted her to be happy and knew she could be happy if she trusted Alex. She blew it and I wanted to smack her.

I loved Alex. He was very charming. I would be almost head over heels in love with a man who could match me literary quotation for literary quotation so I'm sort of biased. Alex's lack of trust makes no sense. I'm tired of the once burned, twice shy heroes. Are men really that stupid? Alex's backstory is never fully revealed. He has one big secret he's keeping from Sam and that is obvious if you've read the original. I think I could forgive him eventually but he should have at least dropped enough clues to make her figure it out at the end. It was obvious in Daddy Long-Legs though Jerusha didn't quite catch on either.

I liked Sam's friends but don't know why Ashley is all of a sudden Sam's therapist. I had Ashley pegged right away. She's the poor little rich girl stereotype. I found her more interesting and easier to relate to than Sam though. The Muirs are so kind and loving, I couldn't help but like them. At least until they got preachy and pretty much forced Sam into a situation she wasn't quite ready for.

Overall, this book just really didn't thrill me. It doesn't compare to the 19th century counterparts it tries to mimic. It's too gritty and the characters too flawed to really work well. Skip this novel and go straight for Sam's reading list, include Freckles, Girl of the Limberlost and of course, Daddy Long-Legs. 

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