My rating: 1 of 5 stars
A random note to begin this review: I think this book has my all-time highest record for attempted sessions only to end up ditching the review draft and starting from scratch. Total number of attempts: ten. Number of nearly completed drafts: two. This one is what I’ve selected to follow through to completion.
I’m at a loss for words on “Levitating Las Vegas”, and I mean that in the sincerest form of disappointment. Reflecting on this novel put me through a range of emotions from very passionate ire for what it portrayed and the way it portrayed such things, to struggling to link certain parts of the story because the writing was so haphazard, to feeling like I didn’t gain much from the experience in reflection – it was difficult to attach to. The one question that keeps consistently popping into my head when I think of this novel is “What happened? Seriously, what happened here, and why?” It’s not on the level of not knowing what occurred in the novel – I read every word. I’ve read much better from Jennifer Echols and I don’t know how for the level of her other works (which, among those I’ve read, were decent with some qualms), this came across so poorly. Nota bene: I’m critiquing this almost independent of the fact that it’s considered under the New Adult heading and that I’ve recently had many reads striking out within that. While there are familiar problematic tropes here, not all of them necessarily buy directly into NA directly. It stirs a number of significant problematic measures in its own consideration.
From the haphazard and ridiculous presentation of mental illness to sexual exploitation to portraying a minority group in an offensive manner (Native Americans, and native populations in general, really don’t get enough proper love and respect in many things I read, but I was seriously taken aback at the notations/implications in this novel), “Levitating Las Vegas” got many things wrong, utterly wrong. I couldn’t enjoy the story. It was so difficult to get through with the jagged writing, haphazard characterizations, tough issues used as conflict vehicles, but never properly dealt with (I feel like I’m reading way too many books that say “Hey! The main character’s nearly raped/sexually assaulted! Instant conflict!”), and formulaic relationship portrayals.
I usually love magical realism novels, whether they’re in contemporary or historical notations. I usually emerge from the experience feeling great from reading something that feels close to real life, but has a little something extra that makes it fun or out of the ordinary. I like Ray Bradbury, Alice Hoffman, Lucy March, Mary Robinette Kowal, Sarah Addison Allen, just to name a few who have written in the style before, though there have been many more. Some of the stories provide awesome insight for several “what if” scenarios (which is one of the reasons why I said when I came out of this novel, I had about a thousand different ideas floating themselves around in my head). I picked this novel up thinking that I remembered Echols work well enough to give it a try and maybe it might be a different read for me in the NA notation. I couldn’t have been more mistaken.
To summarize the story in its barest threads (and I’m even having a tough time writing a summary in that consideration) – two teens are kept in the dark about their developing magical powers until they come of age as young adults (early twenties) and the medicine that helps them manage MAD (Mental Adolescent Disorder) runs out. The reason they’re taken off their medicine is because their parents need their help to take down an organization (the Rez), but things don’t go the way as planned when the young adults turn into lovers who can’t stay away from each other and are still trying to navigate the tricky measures of their powers while evading some crude characters in their pursuit. Meet Elijah and Holly, instalovers who purportedly go on a wild and rather contentious chase among parties seeking to manipulate them both.
I’ll admit on its barest thread, this story could’ve ended up very interesting with the level of young lovers coming of age into their magic and rebelling against the people who lied to them for so long, but this had a very convoluted narrative style and mediocre worldbuilding from the get go. That made it difficult to go through the novel from the beginning. I tried to give it the benefit of the doubt, but for showcasing Holly as a young woman in a family of misfits (her father is a magician, but fake. She’s also have been noted to don bikinis since she was young), I found it hard to sympathize with her because of her character voice. Elijah made me angry more than once on the level of insta-liking Holly and then all of a sudden becomes abrasive with respect to his “MAD” symptoms. One of which involves holding Holly at gunpoint.
Wait, WHAT? When did that ever happen and what mentality led up to that? I get that Elijah has the ability to read minds (which is creepy enough in itself, at least Holly calls him out on it more than a few times). That could’ve been portrayed in a cooler, more intuitive way if given the right cues, but in this book, it was a hard sell for conflict and humor. Not to mention a bit manipulative at that. Elijah’s also susceptible to mind control and that puts the character into a number of sketchy scenarios. There was one point when Elijah, after a love scene with the heroine, is manipulated by his mind by the enemy – while naked – to put on his clothes and then the antagonists knock him out shortly after. Holly had left him behind after their love connection because she realized they were coming after her too.
Holly’s ability is levitation, and while that was shown in certain ways to be cool, I still feel like it wasn’t taken as far as it could’ve gone. It was hard to sympathize with Holly’s character because she didn’t really seem that dimensional of a character to begin with, her coming to terms with her powers and injustices didn’t have the full effect of immersing me. Add to that the sexism involved in Elijah reading her (sometimes naughty) thoughts, mismatched relations, and then a scenario where she thinks she might’ve been “almost” raped, but she never completely comes to terms with the revulsion from that. It’s mostly left by the wayside and a measure to make the character who did it one of the clear enemies.
And there was a scene where it’s highlighted that she was wearing no underwear (had to do with the scene where she leaves Elijah behind after their sexy times and finds clothes but somehow doesn’t need underwear. Don’t get me started on how angry the implications in the encounter with the Vegas crossdressers made me feel). The character who mind manipulated her in the sexual assault takes advantage of her AGAIN and notes very prominently she’s not wearing underwear. The direction it went from there made my jaw drop to the floor.
At that point, I followed the story to the end, players in the story and all, but I just couldn’t digest anything with respect to Elijah, Holly or their respective relationship.
A few things about the misrepresentation of minority groups in this book – it’s bad enough that Native Americans are often stereotyped for not only the lives they lead, but the mysticism/lore surrounding their culture and even to the point of people appropriating the art they create. I became very angry on the level where it was insinuated that Elijah’s mother was of some Native American tribe (though such a tribe was never mentioned, it was still a generalized appropriation). She often mentioned the Rez (which meant that she was supposedly referencing a reservation, but this doesn’t turn out to be what she’s referring to at all), and spoke in a somewhat broken pattern of speech (*side eyes the screen*). When Elijah actually confronts her about things later, it is revealed that she’s NOT Native American, but Elijah reveals that just because she had black hair and wore a lot of turquoise, that’s the reason why he thought she was of that nationality. Elijah’s mother then goes on to confirm wearing turquoise and how he might’ve mistaken her identity, AS A JOKE.
Not cool. Unacceptable. I guess if I’m referencing NA missteps this is just another example of how POCs and minority groups are often backhanded in their portrayal or heavily stereotyped.
Speaking of NA cliches, this does follow many of the typical inclusions like instalove, body shaming, gender typing, sexual assault as a conflict vehicle, but interestingly enough, for the build up of the romantic relationship in this story, the sensuous scenes (which have been played up in many of the cliched novels in the age group) in this were rather dry and distant. It lacked any kind of palpable chemistry, and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes when it came at a much later point in the book. While I could applaud the fact that it wasn’t a prime focus, it really didn’t feel like any kind of emotional payoff because the characters and their chemistry felt so manufactured and on rocky construction from the beginning.
In all, I wouldn’t recommend this, and I think Echols not only has better offerings in her other fiction, but also this doesn’t bode well as a contribution in the spectrum of budding NA fiction. It was poorly written, lacked developed characters, delved into many cliches, some of which were quite offensive, and for what seems to be an entry into the realm of magical realism, lacked any kind of imaginative directive to give it more weight.
Overall score: 0.5/5
Note: I received this as an ARC from Edelweiss, from the publisher Pocket Star.