Self-Reflections with a Mythical Mentor
a Helen Borel, MFA,PhD review
A teenage triumph of a writer is firmly planted in our literary midst. Normally, “writing talent” and “teenage girl” would never gel together. However, in the case of writer Ellie Collins, a pretty, varied-interests girl, we have a gifted anomaly. Such maturity in the insights of this young writer as she observes the sad change in her grandmother’s living arrangements as her main character, Mylee, gently informs her Grammy Jean: “‘Grammy…there’s a bus that runs in the afternoon from the stop at the other end of our street to the street next to the one the Kirkland Heights Retirement Home is on.'”
“Grammy didn’t need any more stress today, of all days.” And, once at the old age home, and mother Sharron had finished with the director’s intake documents, deft writer Ellie Collins observes Mylee like so: “She hugged Grammy Jean goodbye, willing all her love and support to soak into Grammy and keep her strong until [she] could get back, which she promised to do in a few days.” Such a grown-up expression of empathy from this teen writer. Another: Schoolmate Ty, objecting to an invite to Mylee from “badass” Sam, the football player, which she accepts, squirms in italicized thoughts, “‘Noooooooo!!! What is she doing? She can’t encourage this moron; he’s all wrong for her! Ty bit the inside of his cheek to keep from voicing his objections.'”
What follows are hip high-school kids – a coterie of tight friends Lilith, Serena, Ty and Mylee – bantering, teasing, testing pre-adulthood in school halls, in lunchrooms, and outdoors. And note this young writer’s accomplished descriptive gift: After presenting her reader with a troubling scene of an icy dinner atmosphere between her parents, an insufferable silence, Collins has her Mylee character (who wanted to watch TV in the living room) experience “…the clouds of tension hovering over Mom and Dad had moved with them from the dining room to the living room….” Which cloistered Mylee in her room.
Before their trip to the old age home, when sorting Grammy Jean’s possessions in the attic, Mylee happens upon a dazzling collection of hand mirrors. So entrancing. Collins describes each lovingly – with etchings, carvings, embroideries. Mylee favors the pewter one with the winter scene. This became the find of all time. The golden one. It’s intricacy stunned her. Bejeweled. Dazzling.
Now, hold your breath. What she then sees in this spectacular mirror is not her now self, not her earthly room surrounds. What she views is a garden with a flutterflying butterfly. Mystery is buildinng as Ellie Collins snares you in her giftedly-crafted, off-the-beaten-track tale. She has Mylee escaping from her parents’ dysfunctional yelling into the beginnings of a mythic world.
Meanwhile, interspersed, in the real world, Mylee is experiencing all the ups-and-downs and angst and impulsivities of millions of pretty and popular teenage girls. And exceptionally mature for a teenage kid oppressed by the dread parental moods hanging over her, afflicting her natural exuberant normalcy.
Soon, that golden mirror inflicts – not reflects – a blue-eyed blond woman – claiming that Hermes, the Messenger God will pay for hiding her mirror. She’s Aphrodite, goddess of beauty and love. Thus, by merely gazing into it, Mylee can conjure her own private Skype friend, albeit from a mythical world. And from an autocratic ancient. A testy mentor. Still, together they conspire to swap Hermes’ caduceus for a fake one, as payback. Whereupon, Mylee enlists Aphrodite as a confidante about her teenage throes and her parents’ woes.
It’s amazing how this young girl manages to escape from an ordinary, commonly-experienced pre-adult existence – divorce-prone parents, a loving grandma already neatly tucked away in old age, plus friends, admirers and a home-coming date – into ancient Greek mythologic conspiracies among beautiful gods and goddesses.
Suddenly, in a later chapter, the goddess is taking advice from the human teen goddess, all blond and green-eyed, too. And, instead of behaving like an ancient seeress, Aphrodite is transformed by Mylee’s wisdom, into a co-conspirator-confidante. How Ellie Collins captured this magical transformation is embedded in her bold writing gift, making this transition of Aphrodite and Mylee, kind of reversing roles, feel flowingly natural.
Finally, there’s the gift the goddess bestows on Mylee, both spiritual and concrete. And, thus, Aphrodite’s beleaguered husband, the god Hephaestus, is lifted from cuckold-bound to loved partner by the wisdom of a young girl. Thereby paralleling Ellie Collins’ main character’s maturity with her own astoundingly evolved writing. And at such a natal stage.