Well, it finally happened. I read a Christian novel that I liked. And that didn't make me cringe (not even once) due to bad writing or heavy-handed inclusion of Christianity.
To tell you the truth, I had completely forgotten that Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay is Christian fiction. I bought it as an e-book from BookBub, a service that alerts readers to discounted e-books. Initially it caught my attention because the title refers to one of Jane Austen's heroes, and I like Austen's Mr. Knightley very much. Still, I didn't expect much from the book since I've encountered quite a bit of Austen-inspired fiction, and most of it is as dismal as the Christian fiction I dislike.
Dear Mr. Knightley is an epistolary novel, meaning it is written as a series of letters. In this case, almost all of the letters are written by the main character, Samantha Moore, a survivor of the foster care system who got through the hard times by escaping into classic novels, especially those of Jane Austen. After college, Sam receives the opportunity to attend journalism school through a grant from an anonymous donor who asks only that she write regular letters to him to keep him apprised of her progress. The mysterious benefactor uses the synonym of "George Knightley."
The setup may be contrived, but Reay captures Sam's personality perfectly. The lonely young woman pours her heart out onto the page as she would a journal, only with more dialogue and better pacing. In many ways, the book reminded me of two other favorite epistolary novels: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Daddy Long Legs. While a reader of classic literature will surely love the many allusions to works by Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte (among others), those who haven't read those books can still enjoy this one.
The spiritual part of the book is deeply felt and ingrained in the theme of redemption, grace, and forgiveness--yet Reay never slathers it on thick or makes her characters too good to be true. I take it back--I now read Christian fiction, at least if it's written by Katherine Reay.