BookBrowse Reviews The Lightness of Hands by Jeff Garvin

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Lightness of Hands

by Jeff Garvin

The Lightness of Hands by Jeff Garvin X
The Lightness of Hands by Jeff Garvin
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2020, 400 pages
    Aug 2021, 400 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
Buy This Book

About this Book



In this captivating YA novel, a teenager with bipolar disorder attempts to guide her magician father toward a career comeback.

The stillness that comes right after reading a book that has wrapped itself firmly around your heart is so distinct from the stillness just before you fall asleep or when you go out for an early morning jog before the rest of the world is stirring. You don't want to leave it; the real world can wait. That's what it felt like to finish The Lightness of Hands by the word magician Jeff Garvin. It's a YA novel I wish I could've read when I was 16.

Within that stillness I found a connection to protagonist 16-year-old Elias Dante, Jr., a.k.a Ellie, daughter of the Uncanny Dante, a once well-respected Las Vegas magician who became notorious for a spectacularly failed magic trick on Late Night with Craig Rogan (think Craig Ferguson's Late Late Show when he had those "Magic Weeks"). Ellie has lived the RV life since she was six, when her mother committed suicide and she and her father left Las Vegas. As the story begins, they're in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and her father is about to start a gig at a wedding party. In my life, I've moved 17 times, not in an RV like Ellie, but I often had the small thought in the back of my mind that maybe I shouldn't get too comfortable, because who knows when we're going to pull up stakes and move on. Ellie's desire for a stable life felt deeply relatable.

Besides trying to help her father make some money so they can survive, even providing a distraction in a gas station convenience store so he can reset the gas pump behind the counter for more diesel than their Visa prepaid card can provide, Ellie is also dealing with bipolar disorder, genetically inherited from her mother. Jeff Garvin also has it (as he explains in the book's author's note), and his descriptions of Ellie's experience are vivid. Dark clouds gather over her as she struggles to hold on long enough to get her and her father to Los Angeles for him to perform on Flynn & Kellar's (presumably a play on Penn & Teller) Live Magic Retrospective broadcast. The only problem is, Ellie's dad doesn't know about the show, because if she told him, he would staunchly, angrily refuse. His segment of the retrospective is to be a second attempt at that failed trick, which has a somber, personally tragic history behind it. On top of that, since their insurance has lapsed, Ellie doesn't have any more medication for herself, and her father's heart problems are also going untreated.

There are glimmers of hope in Ellie's struggle. She has Ripley, an asexual longtime online friend her age who has family problems of his own, but has developed an outstanding sense of humor as a coping mechanism. There's also Liam, who she knew when they worked in a production of Damn Yankees together at a high school she briefly attended. He's attending Cal State Fullerton, an hour from Los Angeles, so a reunion is possible. And even though Ellie has sworn off performing alongside her father as she once did (she's focused on becoming a nurse one day), she recalls and re-experiences the joy of doing so when she participates in one of his gigs in Indiana.

And then there's Las Vegas, which has a significant presence throughout, from Ellie's memories of it when she was a toddler, to a complicated stop there in which she tries to convince a Howard Hughes-like casino owner to let her rent the truck and water tank needed for her father's failed trick. There's plenty of amusement to be found in the fictionalized names Garvin has for some casinos and magicians (Mac Regent is definitely Mac King, the afternoon comedy magician), a pitch-perfect description of the town of Summerlin ("basically a giant golf course dotted with Costcos and McMansions"), and general descriptions of Las Vegas at night that ring so true. I lived there for five years, so I spent an inordinate amount of time with each reference, combing through the memories that they unearthed. Other readers familiar with the city will likely do the same.

The Lightness of Hands may also be a lifeline to teenage readers like Ellie who struggle with bipolar disorder and the loneliness that may go along with it. Garvin has given them an articulate voice to describe their feelings. This is a novel that I'm so glad they have, a deep-seated connection that speaks to them directly. I'm merely a delighted enthusiast.

Reviewed by Rory L. Aronsky

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in June 2020, and has been updated for the September 2021 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more

Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Lightning Strike
    Lightning Strike
    by William Kent Krueger
    It is the summer of 1963 in Tamarack County, Minnesota. Just outside the small town of Aurora, ...
  • Book Jacket: Skinship
    by Yoon Choi
    The fine thing about short stories in general is their way of following characters through ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Last Mona Lisa
    by Jonathan Santlofer
    In 1911, the Mona Lisa disappeared from its home at the Louvre in Paris. It took two years for the ...
  • Book Jacket: The Women of Troy
    The Women of Troy
    by Pat Barker
    Set in the liminal days following the Trojan War, The Women of Troy follows Briseis, who the reader ...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
Morningside Heights
by Joshua Henkin
A tender and big-hearted novel about love in the face of loss, from the award-winning author of The World Without You.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Flesh & Blood
    by N. West Moss

    This beautifully written memoir offers insight, understanding, and joy.

Win This Book!
Win Sisters of the Great War

Sisters of the Great War by Suzanne Feldman

A powerful novel of two unconventional American sisters who volunteer at the front during World War I.



Solve this clue:

Y A B Up T W T

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.