Dear Mr. Knightley, a novel by Katherine Reay and published by Thomas Nelson (2013), is more than delightful. It will keep you up at night, reading to find out what happens. This book is best read by women, eighteen and above. It is not recommended for high school students or younger as several parts of the story touch upon the sensitive topic of child abuse.
The story is told through a series of letters written by a would-be writer in her twenties, Samantha Moore, to Mr. Knightley, the director of the Dover Foundation. The Dover Foundation has offered her full tuition to the master’s program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She knows that studying journalism is a stretch for her, but she decides to accept.
The one stipulation for Samantha to receive her grant is that she write letters regularly to Mr. George Knightley, a pseudonym for the benefactor. He will not reply, but she must keep him informed of her progress and experiences during her time in the program. She agrees to this. Her letters reveal her character and amazing personality. The reader finds out everything that happens to her, how she thinks, and how she feels. Gradually her past unfolds as well.
Samantha was taken from parents when she was six, due to neglect and abuse. Every few months she was placed in a different foster home. For several years as a young teen, she lived on the streets. When she was fifteen, the police took her to Grace House where she met Father John. He saw that she had a gift for writing and encouraged her to continue.
Samantha, Sam, loves to quote characters from Jane Austen’s books as a means of hiding from her real self. She knows there is a better way to live, but it is slow in coming.
She struggles to trust people. Through a relationship fostered by Father John with a troubled teenage boy named Kyle, she tries to give of herself and help him through similar struggles. Sam’s circle of friends grows while she is in the graduate program. After being attacked one night on her way home, Sam moves into an apartment closer to campus and becomes friends with the family that owns the apartment. She also makes friends at school and for about a year becomes romantically involved with Josh. Their relationship is fun for her, but it is very shallow, and she comes to realize that in time.
One day a well-known mystery writer, Alex Powell, comes to campus. The 29-year-old writer and the 24-year-old Sam hit it off right away. He befriends her and draws her into a world of literature that feels like it could come from one of her favorite books. She is hesitant to reveal the real Sam. Alex introduces her to the Muirs, a retired professor and his wife, who have adopted Alex as their very own son. His parents have always shunned Alex, so he often comes to Chicago to visit the Muirs. The Muirs like Sam and, after Josh breaks up with her, they let her stay in their house while they travel to Europe.
There is one very troubling area in Sam’s life. Dr. Johnson, her main professor, isn’t enamored with her work. He tells her she must find her voice and her passion. She is discouraged and considers giving up. One day she has to have an emergency appendectomy and goes back to Grace House to recover. Kyle, who was recently in a foster home where he experienced abuse, is there. Sam is angry because Dr. Johnson keeps threatening to dismiss her from the program. Kyle is angry about the difficulties foster children endure, so together they write an informative and passionate newspaper article about foster children.
Dr. Johnson loves Sam’s article and he encourages her to get an internship at the Chicago Tribune. She works there all summer and absolutely loves it. Alex, who lives in New York, is in Chicago for the summer, so they spend almost every day together. Their friendship deepens. In the fall he returns to New York and does not contact her. She is sad, but believes that they never had serious ties to begin with.
However, Sam’s relationship with Alex is not over. Reay’s plot twists and turns and Sam and Alex learn about trust and love.
During the course of the book, several people witness to Sam about their faith in Jesus. Alex and the Muirs believe in Jesus and pray for Sam. She has a hard time believing there is a God who could actually loves her. With her, it is a very gradual opening of her mind and heart. Dear Mr. Knightley ends happily, with Sam obtaining a new faith, family, and future husband.
I learned so much from this book about how people recover from abusive and difficult backgrounds. I loved Sam’s personality and felt like she taught me so much. I know that you, as well, will thoroughly enjoy reading and learning from this amazing story.
Patsy Ledbetter says she has many titles, but her favorite is being mom to her five children. Her two daughters, two sons and one son-in-law are her joy. A teacher with forty years experience Patsy has taught children of all ages and also special needs children and adults. She writes occasionally for a local newspaper and performs in church theater productions on a regular basis. Her husband is the church choir and orchestra director. They have been married for 32 years. She says, “It is my desire to bring honor and glory to my Lord Jesus in every area where He has allowed me to minister.”