Samantha Moore has been in and out of foster homes her whole life. Now, at age 23, she’s living at a group home called Grace House, but she’ll soon have to leave unless she can find a way to go back to school. One day she gets a surprising offer: if she can get into the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, an anonymous donor will pay her tuition and living expenses. The only condition is that she must write regular letters detailing her educational progress to the donor under the name Mr. Knightley. Samantha is reluctant at first, particularly because she feels much more connected to fiction than journalism. Indeed, her closest friends growing up were the classic novels that kept her company through dark times, and she frequently hides in the world of books when real life is confusing or difficult. Still, Sam agrees to the deal, and through her letters to “Mr. Knightley,” she is finally able to face her past — and her future.
Despite what the title might suggest, this book is not a Jane Austen spinoff; rather, it’s a contemporary reimagining of Jean Webster’s novel Daddy-Long-Legs. My overall opinion is that the original is far better, but I can’t get into more depth without SPOILERS for both books, so skip the rest of this review if you don’t want to know how they end! … OK, so if you’re still with me, what happens is that Samantha eventually falls in love with “Mr. Knightley,” who turns out to be the handsome mystery novelist who’s been keeping Sam company throughout the book. He knows everything about Samantha, whose letters to him have been more like a diary, yet he doesn’t confess his true identity until the very end of the book. There’s this huge power imbalance between him and Sam, and the book never really addresses it, and I just couldn’t buy it as a romantic or satisfying ending at all. For some reason I didn’t mind it as much in the original – maybe because of the time period in which it was written? So I had a huge issue with the core of the story, and I also didn’t like the author’s writing style. It’s a very readable book, and if you like Daddy-Long-Legs you may enjoy this one too, but I was disappointed.