A YA romance that includes ballroom dancing? YES PLEASE.
While I’ve never participated in it, I have a special place in my heart for ballroom dancing, as it shows up in a pivotal scene in my current WIP (thank you to all the people who have filmed performances and instruction and uploaded these videos to YouTube!), so learning about Eyes On Me by Rachel Harris (Entangled Teen, 2019), a YA romance with ballroom dancing, had me rushing to add it to my TBR.
Lily Bailey is a lot of things- high school senior, serious student, klutzy nerd, secret tutor to jocks, a daughter grieving the death of her mother- but ‘person interested in ballroom dancing’ doesn’t make that list. After her dedication to her studies sends her stress levels high enough to hospitalize her, her father, from whom she’s been feeling alienated ever since her mother’s death, demands that she take up some sort of stress-relieving hobby and suggests her mother’s favorite, ballroom dancing. Lily, who can barely walk down a flight of stairs without ending up in a heap at the bottom, isn’t so sure about this, but reluctantly agrees, while making plans to wriggle out of it as soon as possible.
Enter Stone Torres, super hot quarterback and dancing son of the studio’s owner. When Lily’s dad offers Stone a ton of money in order to become Lily’s permanent dance partner, Stone can’t say no: the studio, his mother’s dream, is in serious trouble, and he’ll do what he has to in order to help out, even if it feels wrong. But Lily turns into more than just a responsibility to Stone; there’s something about her that tugs at his heart and sets it on fire. A showcase at the dance studio might be the key to drumming up new business and saving Stone’s mother’s dream, but how will he ever come clean to Lily about how their relationship began?
What a sweet, fun book! There wasn’t quite as much ballroom dancing as I would have liked, but Ms. Harris writes some incredible female friendships. At the start, Lily really only has her best friend Sydney, but Stone’s twin sister Angela quickly joins the group, and her health issues add emotion and depth. There’s some Mean Girl-esque action stemming from Stone’s ex-girlfriend (whom I could never totally buy into being a contender for valedictorian; with as hard as Lily worked to maintain her GPA and class ranking, I never got the same impression with the ex, whose name I can’t remember- Cameron, maybe???), but the Lily/Sydney/Angela friend group really helps keep the Nasty Perfect Ex trope from overpowering the rest of the story.
Lots of emotion going on in this book. Lily is still grieving the death of her mother. Her father, who obviously cares for her, has had a hard time being open about his grief, and the two haven’t been able to forge a connection since. Lily buries her grief by working so hard that she makes herself physically ill and suffers from panic attacks; Angela is a childhood cancer survivor; Stone struggles with reconciling his image as SuperCool Popular Football Player, which is what his football-obsessed town wants him to be, with his ability to dance and who he really wants to be; Stone’s close friend and teammate is ashamed he needs Lily to tutor him and enlists Lily to hide this secret; Stone’s parents are deeply worried about the future of the studio. There’s a lot going on here, but Ms. Harris pulls it all together seamlessly and turns it all into a charming story of two people falling in love and healing themselves while doing the Salsa.
(Shorter review than normal, but would you believe- you guessed it- I’M SICK AGAIN. My son felt crummy two days on vacation, and as we were driving home, my daughter developed the equivalent of the whitewater rapids of snotty noses. She was up all last night coughing, and she’s coughed so hard she threw up twice. I’ve got a sore throat, a cough, and a runny nose. We can’t catch a break around here. I feel like I’m playing Where’s Waldo? with our immune systems…)
What are your feelings on ballroom dancing? Have you ever participated, or do you have two left feet and run screaming at the very idea? Do you watch Dancing with the Stars? Do you dream of being able to cha-cha and samba while wearing ankle-breaking heels? I’ve never done any ballroom dancing, but I have to admit, I wish I could!