Chris Benjamin Reviews The Hermit
I read an advanced review copy of The Hermit by Jan L Coates to my eight-year-old daughter over a two-month period (a little bit every other night). The first thing I should note is that the book is listed as intended for the 8-12 age range, so my daughter is at the younger end of that spectrum. She's a pretty good reader but I think this book would have challenged her. Reading it aloud to her worked well.
A very brief recap of the plot (no spoilers): 11-year-old Danny Marsters is hiking with a buddy in the woods when he comes across dishevelled old fella who lives alone in the woods, in a rough but cozy cabin he built himself. It has cured eels hanging from the ceiling. It turns out this hermit (who is based loosely on the real-life Hermit of Gully Lake) is already connected with young Danny. And despite his decades-long separation from the townspeople, he may have an important role in determining their future.
A week or two after we finished the book, I asked my daughter what she liked most about it. It was the kids. The hermit, while central, was less interesting to her than the three main boys, who play together on the same soccer team. She also loved Danny's dog, Jessie, who in the way of a good fictional or real-life dog manages a big presence without a word. I reminded her of the book's titular character and she said she learned some things from him, like not to eat too many berries.
An important test of a kid's book is its ability to appeal to the adult, who in this case and many others reads along. Perhaps not surprisingly, I was much more taken with The Hermit himself, his decision to escape civilization, which was based on a somewhat unpleasant history. More importantly, he found an alternate route to contentment and satisfaction, and it came with some very old-world values that I hope my daughter absorbed into her YouTube-saturated subconscious. He's a character with what Robert Pirsig called gumption.
The Hermit expertly balances a page-turning plot with kid-centric action and deeper philosophical insights (I won't say morals) that adults can appreciate.