Monday, July 31, 2017

"Dear Mr. Knightley" by Katherine Reay - a modern "Daddy Long Legs"

Dear Mr. Knightley
After growing up in the foster care system, Samantha Moore finds safety in books but can't seem relate to other people for her life. When yet another disappointment lands her back where she started--a group home--she decides to go to grad school after all. An anonymous benefactor agrees to sponsor Sam, provided she study journalism and write frequent updates. So Sam begins attending grad school, certain that the courses will be a breeze and she can fake the human interaction. But she learns that nothing is that easy . . . With her anonymous Mr. Knightley as her confidante, she chronicles the ups and downs of her journey toward healing.

There are a lot of contrasts in this book; it's both an ode to the classics and a very modern read, with tough, real-world problems. There's humor, but also a lot of pain. Both self-realization and lying to oneself. Hope and despair (though hope triumphs).

I can't speak for how accurate this story is in portraying an adult who grew up in the foster care system--the closest I've come is one friend who was adopted as a baby, but she has never had cause to doubt her parents' love. Regardless, the story resonates--the feelings of abandonment, the walls put up to shelter one from more hurt and disappointment. If this is even remotely close to what some foster kids experience, it's powerful and painful. I can understand why Sam would retreat from real life into fiction when things hit too close to home. To my limited experience, the author portrayed this really well.

Another thing she did well--the author knows her classics! Not just Austen and the Brontes, but also Dumas and Dickens and Shakespeare and others. I consider myself decently versed in the classics, but there's no way I could keep up the quote wars (though at least I recognized many of the Austen quotes). It was fun how she was able to incorporate them so easily, using them both as a guide for polite behavior and a weapon.

In some ways it's a coming of age novel (which is fitting, being based on the classic Daddy Long Legs), though Sam is a bit older of a protagonist than usual. It's definitely a moving tale, and one to make you think.

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