Book Review: Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

Title: Dear Mr. Knightley
Author: Katherine Reay
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Genre(s): Literary, Romance
Published: 2013

Dear Mr. Knightley has found a place among my favorite books. I was swept away by the characters and the emotions, and simply had to keep reading to see what might happen next. So much for the errands I intended to get done that day….

Here’s what it’s about (from publisher Thomas Nelson):

Samantha Moore has always hidden behind the words of others—namely her favorite characters in literature. Now, she will learn to write her own story—by giving that story to a complete stranger.

Growing up orphaned and alone, Sam found her best friends in the works of Austen, Dickens, and the Brontë sisters. The problem is that she now relates to others more comfortably as Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Eyre than as herself.

Sometimes we lose ourselves in the things we care about most.

But life for this twenty-three-year-old is about to get stranger than fiction, when an anonymous benefactor (calling himself “Mr. Knightley”) offers to put Sam through the prestigious Medill School of Journalism. There is only one catch: Sam must write frequent letters to the mysterious donor, detailing her progress.

As Sam’s program and peers force her to confront her past, she finds safety in her increasingly personal letters to Mr. Knightley. And when Sam meets eligible, best-selling novelist Alex Powell, those letters unfold a story of love and literature that feels as if it’s pulled from her favorite books. But when secrets come to light, Sam is – once again – made painfully aware of how easily trust can be broken.

Reay’s debut novel follows one young woman’s journey as she sheds her protective persona and embraces the person she was meant to become.

And here’s why I loved it:

As I’m writing this review several days after reading the book, the characters are still with me, vivid and alive like cherished friends. And I’m tempted to dive right back into the book and read it again.  In fact, I already have read a few of my favorite scenes a second (and third) time.  The emotional resonance of those scenes is truly powerful.  I feel for the characters, their vulnerabilities and fears, and I want to see them find love, acceptance, and happiness.  Sam desperately wants to experience “normal” and I want that for her too.  It’s what drives her to grow and change and to confront her fears.

The format of the book is unusual in that it consists almost entirely of the letters Sam writes to her benefactor, Mr. Knightley.  Those letters are detailed accounts of the things that matter in her life, told in first person narrative format.  At times, it was easy to get swept up in the action, description, and dialogue Sam records, and forget that I was reading a letter.  And yet, the really great thing about the use of letters was getting to see Sam’s perspective on events more or less as they were happening rather than her perspective looking back from the conclusion of the story.  It gives a sense of immediacy, and allows the reader to see how her thinking changes as the story progresses.

The faith element in this story shows up in the subtle influences of Christian characters Sam encounters who love and accept her, and show her a reason for hope.  Given her fascination for literature, I loved the role her reading of CS Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader played in her growth and development, as well as her changing understanding of Scrooge in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.  Framing her newfound understanding within a context of literature really seemed to make sense for her character, and provided a glimpse into the Christian worldview without becoming preachy.  I think this is a story that could be enjoyed by Christians and non-Christians alike.

This is a must-read debut novel, particularly if you’re into Jane Austen or romance or literary novels or loveably flawed characters trying to find their place in the world.  Please, do yourself a favor and give this book a try.  And if you enjoy reading it as much as I did, you’ll be on the lookout for Katherine Reay’s next book, Lizzy and Jane, due out in October.

To learn more about author Katherine Reay, visit her Web site at where you can find links to connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and her blog.

Thank you to publisher Thomas Nelson for providing a complimentary copy for review purposes, via NetGalley.  This is my own honest review.

For more book reviews and other posts of interest to readers of Christian fiction, please subscribe to my blog at

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

  1. Thank you, Karen. This book definitely stands out, especially the narration in the form of letters. I grew up reading classics, and the heroine’s journey sounds very interesting to me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *