Review: Levitating Las Vegas by Jennifer Echols
Generally, I really enjoy it when authors take their writing in new directions. Maybe a contemporary/realistic author tries science fiction, or a speculative author attempts a mystery. So, when Jennifer Echols--who's a favorite author of mine--announced that she'd written a paranormal "new adult" novel, my interest was piqued.
Unfortunately, while Levitating Las Vegas had an interesting concept, the filmsy world-building, characterization and plot largely failed to to deliver.
Holly Starr is a Las Vegas showgirl and recent college grad who has taken medication for years to prevent hallucinations that started as a teen, hallucinations that she could levitate. She's tired of spending her nights assisting in her father's magic show and hopes to forge her own path in Las Vegas. Her former classmate, Elijah also experienced hallucinations as a teen that he's been medicated for ever since. In his case, he believed he could read minds.
Both of their hallucinations threaten to return when the supply of their medication suddenly disappears, and they start to wonder if maybe they're not so crazy after all?
Thus ensues a mayhem-filled story that includes everything from a kidnapping (Elijah kidnaps Holly) to a show-stopper of a magic trick involving nudity and the Hoover Dam.
With this wild premise, Levitating Las Vegas could have been a fun read, and I did have moments when I really enjoyed it (such as Holly, who'd never driven a car, "driving" it down the Strip in her own unique fashion) and am a sucker for caper-style plots, as a big fan of urban fantasy, I expected more in terms of logical construction of the world and magic.
My first and biggest issue was that there was no real, believable explanation for why some people have special abilities.
"It's genetic" is the only reason given. Levitating Las Vegas reveals that there's a not insignificant conspiracy to suppress magical abilities and that there's an entire subculture around these abilities, and yet the rationale behind the existence these abilities is not explored. In some paranormal fiction, this can work, if part of the story is seeking understanding and meaning behind this sort of magic. However, this is not the case in this novel.
The adults with special abilities go to great lengths to shield the young people with abilities from themselves, because of danger from outside forces which could be a great threat to them. However, even that danger is not particularly well-developed and I never believed that it was one that justified the extreme course of action taken.
Additionally, while Levitating Las Vegas is billed as a romantic comedy, the chemistry between the two main characters was forgettable.
I'm a big fan of Jennifer Echols' writing, and really enjoyed her adult rom-com, Star Crossed, earlier this year. And as a result, I have high expectations of her ability to make me believe in her characters' connections to one another. In the case of Levitating Las Vegas, however, I never really believed that Elijah and Holly would last and that their connection went beyond both of their being betrayed by their families regarding their unique abilities. Frankly, it felt like they would both be better off moving onto other people once they got their long-anticipated fling (they'd crushed on each other as teens) out of their systems.
New adult? Uh, okay...
Levitating Las Vegas also jumped on the "new adult" bandwagon with its marketing. This actually makes a lot of sense, because it's an ebook-only release from Simon & Schuster's Pocket Star and the new adult trend is definitely being driven by ebook readers.
However, when I think about the concept of "new adult," I expect more than simply the main character(s) being in the 18-24 age range--there should be some exploration of challenges of being a "grown up," of finding one's way. (I wrote more about this here and Laura and I discussed the subject in our podcast recently.) Unfortunately, like so many titles marketed as "new adult," Levitating Las Vegas doesn't do this in any depth whatsoever. Interestingly, the concept of older the YA, younger than traditional adult fiction protagonists has thrived in urban fantasy for a long time, many of which actually grapple with the issues I'd expect of a novel encapsulating the concept of "new adult"; Rachel Vincent's Shifters series is one I point to often as really nailing the, "What kind of adult do I want to become?" question.
I'm certain some readers will forgive the flaws in this story because it's intended as a romantic comedy.
However, as a lover of rom-coms, for me it's doing the genre a disservice by holding it to a lower standard than I would more "serious" novels. Making people happy, making them laugh is a pretty noble thing in my mind, and by not expecting the execution to hold up against any other it further bolsters the argument that some reading is more "worthwhile" than others, which I believe is blatantly wrong.
I realize this review sounds particularly harsh, and it's not intended that way. It's simply that I have high expectations for Jennifer Echols' storytelling. If it had been written by any other author, I likely would have been less disappointed, but I kept reading in in hopes of that Echols' magic coming through the pages. I read Levitating Las Vegas immediately after finishing Echols' summer YA release, Dirty Little Secret, which is incredibly good, so the contrast between this book and her usually-excellent novels was even more striking.
I do think that readers normally averse to paranormal elements may actually find Holly and Elijah's story appealing--it's certainly readable and moves at a quick pace. However, if you're a fan of Jennifer Echols or urban fantasy, you'll probably want to give Levitating Las Vegas a pass.
Disclosure: Review copy provided by the publisher.