Saturday, April 25, 2020

"The Lightness of Hands"

Jeff Garvin is an author, podcaster, and musician. His debut novel, Symptoms of Being Human, is an ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults Selection, a Lambda Literary Award Finalist, and garnered starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly. His sophomore book, The Lightness of Hands, received a starred review from School Library Journal and praise from multiple New York Times bestselling authors. Garvin also produces and cohosts The Hero’s Journey podcast, examining books and films through the lens of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth paradigm.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Lightness of Hands and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Don’t disappear,” he said.

I didn’t know how to reply.

I climbed the steps of the RV, closed the door behind me, and looked around. I had lived in this box half my life, but suddenly it was too small. The box, my life, everything. I felt smothered. Claustrophobic. I had an impulse to rush back outside and tell Liam to stay. I could make coffee. We could sit at the picnic table and just talk. Stretch the night out a little longer.

I took a step toward the door, but then I heard the Mustang’s engine revving and saw the tail lights retreat as Liam drove away. I turned and started down the aisle.

Dad was waiting up for me, sitting at the table and pretending to read. He looked up and smiled as I approached, but his eyes were already inspecting me for signs of whatever dads feared they would find after a date.

“How did it go?” he asked.

“Good,” I said. “I’m really tired.”

Dad raised his eyebrows. “I promise not to interrogate you. But you’ve got to give me more than that.”

I sighed. “He’s really great, Dad. A total gentleman.” A total gentleman I would probably never see again.

“That’s wonderful.”

Dad’s smile was too bright somehow, like a flashlight in the eyes. I looked away, irritated.

“Did you see a movie?” he asked.

“Dad, I’m tired.” I wanted to be alone. I tried to walk past him, but he took my arm gently in his hand.

“Ellie, what’s the matter?”
The page sixty-nine test isn’t particularly effective for my book. The Lightness of Hands is the story or 16-year-old Ellie Dante, who must battle her bipolar II disorder in order to resurrect her sick father’s ruined magic career. While the narration and dialogue on page sixty-nine do serve to develop Ellie’s character and her relationship with her father, they don’t provide the kind of first impression I would want readers to have.

On page sixty-nine, we get only a hint that magic is involved in the story, and it’s through a bad joke that Ellie’ love interest, Liam, makes: “Don’t disappear.” We do, however, get a sense of Ellie’s living and family situation, and both are crucial to the story. Ellie lives with her aging father in a small RV; she has little space and no privacy, which puts a strain on their already difficult relationship. Because the two of them travel constantly, performing at bars and backyard parties to make ends meet, Ellie has difficulty forming relationships with people her own age, like Liam, a boy she went to high school with and has recently run into again. She longs to escape her cloistered life with Dad and get out into the world. It’s a microcosm of the teenager’s need to leave the nest, complicated here by the small space and Ellie’s isolation.

Also missing is any clear element of Ellie’s largest obstacle: bipolar II disorder. Of course, the psychology of bipolar II can be subtle, and its on-the-page effects invisible, but given the self-awareness with which Ellie is blessed (cursed?), page sixty-nine is not representative of how the depressed valleys and hypomanic peaks affect the extraordinary way Ellie sees the world, and therefore, how we see Ellie.
Visit Jeff Garvin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue