blog tour · fiction · YA

The Write Reads on Tour Presents: Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

Ahoy, mateys! Welcome to the latest stop on The Write Reads Ultimate Blog Tour for Nicola Yoon’s Instructions for Dancing! Get ready to slam that BUY NOW button on the bookselling website of your choice (support your indie booksellers, folks!), because this book is Nicola Yoon at her very best.

I’ve read Nicola Yoon before; you can read my enjoyment of two of her other books here (if you note the date on that post, you’ll realize I never got to attend Ms. Yoon’s local appearance. THANKS, PANDEMIC!!! I’m crossing my fingers that she’ll make her way back here at some point when it’s safe). So when The Write Reads announced, in conjunction with Penguin Books, a blog tour of her latest YA novel, Instructions for Dancing (Penguin, 2021), I knew I wanted in. Ms. Yoon writes such interesting, multi-dimensional characters and drops them into situations that force their growth in lively and moving ways. Yup. Sign. Me. Up.

In Instructions for Dancing, we meet Evie as she’s clearing her shelf of romance novels, her favorite genre of book, set on giving them all away. Uh-oh. Turns out Mom and Dad got divorced a while back, and while Mom and sister Danica seem to have moved on from this, Evie can’t, because she’s the one who caught Dad cheating. Yikes. Love is dead, and Evie no longer believes it’s possible. A stop at a Little Free Library to unload her books (and take one home, a strange book entitled Instructions for Dancing) finds Evie in a chance encounter with a mysterious woman who seems to have granted Evie the ability to see how every relationship will turn out- while watching couples in love kiss, she sees the beginning, middle, and end of that love story. Not exactly a great superpower for someone already struggling to believe in love.

After a friend encourages her to visit the dance studio where the Instructions for Dancing book came from, Evie takes a chance and signs up for a trial dance lesson, where she meets X, short for Xavier. Tall, hipstery, and too good-looking for anyone’s good, X, a musician, is trying to ramp up his career in LA while mourning the death of his best friend. His philosophy is nearly the mirror opposite of Evie’s: take chances. Say yes. Live every moment of life and feel it deeply. Before Evie knows it, she’s signed up to participate in a local amateur ballroom dancing competition with X as her partner (the studio seems like it could use the publicity, honestly), and the two of them edge closer to a deep, meaningful relationship.

But, as always, there’s the struggle with Evie’s strained relationship with Dad, along with those visions, which have started to affect her relationship with her best friends. When a vision shows her the truth of her relationship with X, Evie’s not sure how she can go on. But with a little courage, some help from her friends, and a whole lot of heart, Evie learns she has what it takes to keep dancing through life no matter what.

This.

Book.

My God.

I blasted through this in a matter of hours, all in one sitting (with a pause to put my daughter to bed and read some Anne of Green Gables to her). And as I finished, I felt like I’d been gutted with a fish knife. Nicola Yoon has a way of worming inside a reader’s soul and just destroying it, and this is the best piece of writing I’ve ever read from her. This book is everything.

Evie is so fully developed as a character. She’s hurting badly over her parents’ divorce and the way her father betrayed the family. He’s not who Evie thought he was. Infidelity is a tough subject to tackle, especially for younger readers, but Ms. Yoon handles this with delicacy and class. Never does she fully drag Evie’s dad, but she presents him in a way that shows that human behavior and emotion are deeply complex and deserve to be examined on a level that delves far below the surface. Her mother is the same way: while she’s hurting, she puts on a brave front, and this is examined from both Evie’s and her perspective later on in the book. As a child of divorced parents who split in a somewhat similar fashion when I was a teenager, I really appreciated this honest and accurate look at a complicated and painful situation.

X is a beautiful character (and not just physically!). His grief over the loss of his friend is raw, but he lays it all out there and doesn’t try to couch his emotions or pretend to be fine when he’s not. His seize-the-day attitude is exactly what Evie needs at this moment in her life; he provides such a lovely balance to her cynicism and anger. And the dancing! I’m not super into watching ballroom dancing, but I kind of love reading about it, and it was so fun to vicariously twirl across the dance floor with Evie and X and feel the growing tension and attraction between them.

The ending of this book will rip your heart out, stomp it flat like a pancake, and slip it into the paper shredder, then pulp the remains. But after all that, you’ll still be left with a sense of hope, that buried somewhere inside of us all is the strength to keep going, to live deeply, cherish every moment, then take what we’ve learned from everyone we meet- no matter how painful- and keep dancing through life.

This is a book you can’t live without. This is Nicola Yoon’s best.

What a beautiful, soul-stirring book. I’m so glad I signed up for this book tour, and I hope I’ve convinced you to spend some time with this novel. I honestly feel I’m a little bit different now after reading it, and I don’t think it’s something I’ll ever forget. Ms. Yoon has imparted some serious life lessons here.

HUGE thanks go out to Dave at The Write Reads, Penguin Books, and Nicola Yoon for allowing me to participate in this blog tour!

Visit Nicola Yoon’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

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fiction · YA

Eyes On Me- Rachel Harris

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!

Visit Rachel Harris’s website here. (As I’m writing this post, the website isn’t coming up for me; hopefully it will in the future!)

Follow her on Twitter here.