Cover of The Lightness of Hands, with a girl with long black hair casting a shadow of a girl releasing birds into the sky

About the Book

Title: The Lightness of Hands
Published: 2020

Cover Story: Lovely Assistant
Drinking Buddy:
MPAA Rating:
PG-13 (adult situations, language, alcohol use)
Talky Talk:
Bonus Factors:
Heist, Stage Magic
Bromance Status:
May I Have a Volunteer?

Cover Story: Lovely Assistant

I like the motif of the mismatched shadow and Ellie’s cocktail dress/sneakers combination. She’s just a tad over-sexualized for my taste, but what magician’s assistant isn’t?

The Deal:

Ellie’s father, the Uncanny Dante, was once a world-famous stage magician. The kind of guy who could sell out a major venue. A magician who’d inspire websites dedicated to figuring out how he did some of his tricks. But one day, on national television, Dante failed. Big time. And now he’s become a joke. He and his daughter Ellie are now living in an RV, shoplifting from gas stations and working the occasional nightclub or birthday party. With no health insurance, Dante’s heart condition is getting worse, as are Ellie’s bipolar issues.

But now a magic act has offered Ellie a great deal: Dante will perform his failed stunt at a live TV festival for a dumpload of money. This is the sort of thing that could resurrect his career, solve all their financial problems, and allow Ellie to move on with her life. There’s just a few problems. First of all, Ellie and Dante are in the Midwest, and the show is in California. There’s no money for gas or food for the long trip. Also, the trick he needs to perform requires some very specific, very involved equipment, which is now in the hands of a notoriously reclusive and obnoxious collector. Finally, Ellie never actually told her father she’d agreed to this. The last time he tried this stunt he nearly died, and he’s not anxious to do it again.

Drinking Buddy: Non-Alcoholic

Two pints of beer cheersing

Ellie has a severe bipolar disorder, swinging from intense, manic joy to suicidal depression. Her ex-high school classmates think she’s a crazy party girl, but in reality, that’s just half of who she is. And when things get bad, she has to stop herself from sticking her head in a motel sink or pulling the hair dryer into the tub with her. Medication would help, but she has no insurance, and what cash she can scrape together goes for her father’s heart medication. To make things worse, her mother suffered from the same condition, and did kill herself. And since she’s living in an RV and stealing diesel fuel, things aren’t exactly looking hopeful. Can Ellie find some real magic in her life?

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (adult situations, language, alcohol use)

Despite Ellie’s chaotic lifestyle, she catches the eye of Liam at a party. Liam is handsome, wealthy, and, per YA rules, dimpled. But Liam only knows Ellie as the crazy performer who’s always up for anything. He doesn’t see the depressed girl with the suicide hotline on speed dial. Besides, Ellie’s making tracks for California, so it may be a moot point. Plus who the hell is this girl who keeps texting Ellie, demanding she leave her boyfriend alone? No thank you.

On the other hand, there’s Ellie’s internet friend, a boy named Ripley, believe it or not. Ripley is there for Ellie when things get bad, and Ellie listens to Ripley rant about his step-family situation. They’ve never exchanged photos and have no plans to meet. Except he lives in California, and now that Ellie is headed that way…well, should they get together for coffee? What’s stopping them?

Talky Talk: Misdirection

I kind of expected this to be a lighthearted look at stage magic and road trips. However, with Ellie’s depression, this was a lot more serious than I had anticipated. But Ellie’s basically a good kid. She keeps a record of every gas station they steal from, in hopes of paying them back one day. She pickpockets a nerdy cell phone store employee under the guise of getting his number, but then kind of wishes she actually could call him. She resents her father for forcing her into this life, but refuses to abandon him. And when arranging this performance calls for some non-traditional methods, Ellie’s up for it.

What can I say, I like a girl who wants to get into my pants…even if it’s just for my wallet. Speaking of which, I was waiting for the big Liam vs. Ripley showdown. C’mon, the handsome bad boy and the rock solid friend? Nope, this was one of the few books where a guy and a girl are buddies and have no interest in anything more.

Bonus Factor: Heist

Ocean's 8 movie poster

In order for Dante to recreate his greatest escape, he’ll need the original equipment. Unfortunately, it’s in the hands of an odious collector named Higgins who doesn’t like to share. But maybe he’s willing to make a deal. Ellie and Dante know all about lock picks and sneaking around, right? Perhaps they could do him a favor…

Bonus Factor: Stage Magic

Magician's Hat

Ellie has grown up on stage, both as an assistant and as a performer in her own right. She can guess your card with the best of them and has invented tricks that other magicians would like to purchase. But is this the life Ellie wants? She’s struggling to complete her online high school courses, and spotty WiFi isn’t helping. Does she want to spend the rest of her life living in an RV, waiting for that next big break?

As the Penn Jillette-parody character advises Ellie, ‘Fail Greatly.’

Bromance Status: May I Have a Volunteer?

This wasn’t a book that jumped out at me, but I’m glad I picked it. The experience was almost magical, but only once.

FTC full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, but no money or backstage passes.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.