Hermit Girl, by E. M. Collyer

I’m a bit like moss; at first you don’t notice me, but while you’re not looking, I secretly grow on you.

I got this book for free as an advance review copy by the author who happened to like my review of “Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine” and approached me. Thanks, E. M., I appreciate it!

Secondly, I’d like to point out that “ten percent of the profits of this novel [are being] donated to the Children’s Adventure Farm Trust” by request of said author. That’s pretty cool as well.

So, now that the introduction is out of the way; what’s this all about? Essentially, it’s about Willow who is a “socially-challenged” young adult, working as a temporary employee in a (for her) boring office job.

Living at home with her overbearing mother, Willow is not much of a happy camper. In fact, she is a bit bitchy at times and annoying. Also, she’s a YouTuber and not very successful at that – she has like 10 subscribers. In her videos she basically gives dating advice in spite of the fact that her only relationship (that goes beyond mere acknowledgement of existence) is with “SSJ Bailey”, an employee of a local store.

All in all, Willow’s life is a bit of a mess. Hold on, though, because as per the introductory quotation, she actually did grow on me – somewhat.

Collyer was right to approach me – Willow does have quite a few similarities with Eleanor Oliphant (albeit being an original story in its own right!). Willow is socially inhibited, has difficult familial bonds and something of a “dark secret”.

Willow’s personality differs vastly from Eleanor’s, though: Where Eleanor doesn’t allow herself to think of herself as being anything but “completely fine”, Willow feels she’s undeservedly suffering:

The day doesn’t get any easier, though. There are no points awarded for suffering.

Both Eleanor and Willow seek to make a good impression on a man but whereas Eleanor makes insane plans, Willow prepares pick-up lines which she calls “PowerPoint wake-up calls” to push men out their comfort zone. This does make a lot of sense but Willow tends to get a bit preachy about it: There are YouTube video scripts that basically try to drive home the point of the chapter. While they’re mostly spot-on, they’re standing on their own and sometimes indeed feel like a sermon.

Willow – to me at least – isn’t very likeable either; at times, she’s outright unkind, snarky and deliberately offensive and hurtful (if she scores a hit or doesn’t as in the following example) doesn’t matter:

I tell her she looks like an aberration of nature. Chloe beams. “Thanks, Kayleigh!”

Willow keeps comparing her life to that of others who “all have easier lives than I do. The world is much nicer to them.”. At which point I want to ask her how she could possibly know that.

She basically keeps coming back to the ancient lament “Why ME?!” as well which I find rather annoying on many levels: First of all, if you ask “why me” you pretty much put yourself into the centre of the universe. While I sympathise with that, I came to understand that the universe as such doesn’t even know I exist and doesn’t care. The universe just exists and that’s it.

Secondly, it (most of the time) puts things out of a healthy perspective: Willow is lonely, not suffering from terminal cancer or something like that. (And what does it say about someone if they say “why me” – doesn’t that kind of imply that “some other person deserves it much more”?)

And, of course, by asking “why me” you make yourself a victim. “Destiny” wills it so and you’re just an innocent victim who can’t do anything about it. No, most of the time, you can change things.

On the other hand, when Willow is slipping into her YouTube alter ego, Kayleigh, she becomes more interesting. She’s still snarky but there’s a quality of outright (and outspoken!) honesty to her that I enjoyed a lot (during a disastrous blind date, arranged by her mom):

Our relationship,” I tell him, “is that I was forced to come here by my mom. And that I’m leaving right now. That’s all this is.

Among others, it were those scenes (or the one during which Willow “prepares” several guys for her subscribers) that endeared Willow to me.

Especially when she reminisces about her past and looks at old school photos (tons of those here as well!) and notices that she painted small blue circles around the faces of her childhood crushes, I can relate to her. That really helps to even out her bitchier character traits.

In many more instances, Collyer truly hits home – for me at the very least – and keeps my interest up. Often times I know (or think I do) exactly what she means and that helps keeping me engaged even though “Hermit Girl” is somewhat “verbose” in parts. This shows especially in the middle parts whereas the ending feels a bit rushed.

Ultimately, the lightness and fun of “Eleanor Oliphant” are missing dearly here. With Eleanor I felt constantly torn between laughing with her, sometimes about her, crying about her and a lot of other emotions that book triggered in me.

That didn’t happen with Willow and, I think, that’s the main reason I couldn’t connect as thoroughly and didn’t like her as much. Maybe the somewhat jaded Willow is more realistic than Eleanor but I for one prefer to read about the latter.

Nevertheless, if you enjoyed “Eleanor Oliphant” you’re likely to enjoy “Hermit Girl” as well. Maybe differently, maybe as a “runner-up” but, honestly, if you’re second only to Eleanor Oliphant, you must have gotten something right.

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