Monday, March 23, 2015

Book Review: Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay
Rutledge Hill Press, U.S., 5 November 2013
336 Pages
Christian Fiction
2 Stars

Barnes & Noble; Book Depository; Goodreads

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.

Sam is, to say the least, bookish. An English major of the highest order, her diet has always been Austen, Dickens, and Shakespeare. The problem is, both her prose and conversation tend to be more Elizabeth Bennet than Samantha Moore.

But life for the twenty-three-year-old orphan is about to get stranger than fiction. An anonymous, Dickensian benefactor (calling himself Mr. Knightley) offers to put Sam through Northwestern University’s 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 dark memory mingles with that of eligible novelist Alex Powell, her letters to Mr. Knightley become increasingly confessional. While Alex draws Sam into a world of warmth and literature that feels like it’s straight out of a book, old secrets are drawn to light. And as Sam learns to love and trust Alex and herself, she learns once again how quickly trust can be broken.

One of my 2015 reading goals is to explore new genres.  Besides the Chronicles of Narnia, some Frank Peretti, and a few other books, I have never really dove into Christian fiction.  I tend to prefer Christian nonfiction, and I have a difficult time figuring out what is good.  So, when I saw the great reviews that Dear Mr. Knightley received, I thought I would try it out.

This book, however, was not what I was looking for.

The plot had potential.  There was the orphan girl with a past, her mysterious donor, and her journey to become a writer.  However, Reay offered nothing new to this story.  There were no surprises at all, and I was just taken down the same, often-traversed path.  This would have been fine had the characters been strong, but they offered no substance to the story.

The main character, Samantha Moore, annoyed me to no end.  She had no anchor and so just floated around the entire story with no conviction, no beliefs, and no real direction.  She would make up her mind just to change it again, but she gave no logical reasons.  

For example, for half of the book she's being pressured to sleep with her boyfriend, and she vacillates between, "Yes, I will do this," and, "I don't feel like it."  But she never gives a reason for resisting.  

The same is true when it comes to her schooling.  She goes back and forth between striving forward and giving up, but offers no motivation behind her continuing on each time she is set back.  

The thing that bothered me the most has more to do with plot than characterization.  Samantha spends the entirety of the novel searching, and she's surrounded by Christians who urge her to surrender to God.  She is neither firmly against or for God and seems to have no real beliefs at all.  Yet, the entire novel builds up to her salvation...which never comes.  It ends with her retaining her vague beliefs.  I'm not saying that every Christian novel needs to end with someone being saved, but if the author shows me the gun in the first act, I expect it to be fired by the third.

The rest of the characters were entirely blasé.  There was the stereotypical perfect priest with a sacrificial heart who offers sage advice, the troubled kid with whom the protagonist has a special connection, the childless couple who become second parents, and the seemingly perfect, unattainable guy with a past.  None of them were fleshed out, and so I cared very little about what happened to them during the course of the story.

One of the worst things about the characterization in this book was that all of the characters were only vaguely Christian.  They spoke about praying and God a few times, but overall they were just good people.  Their relationship with Christ wasn't shown at all.

I tend to enjoy epistolary books, and I felt that the letter-writing style worked for this book, as well.  The only disadvantage was that I was stuck in the point of view of a character I didn't particularly like.  What really bothered me, however, were all of the forced references to classic literature, especially in dialogue.  I understand that Sam is supposed to hide behind characters, but all of the quotes from Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice felt completely unnatural.  It irritated me quite a lot after awhile.  Otherwise, the writing was fairly average.

The book was very easy to read with good pacing that didn't rush or lag.  I finished it in one sitting, but it didn't inspire any extra thought or searching.  It was just a light, junk food read that offered no nutrition.

I didn't hate this book.  In fact, I enjoyed how light and simple it was.  However, when I started to really think about it, I realized that it offered nothing substantial.  I gave it 2 stars.

Do you have any Christian fiction that you would recommend to me?  Please share in the comments below.

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Happy reading!

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