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.



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!

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The Sparrow Sisters- Ellen Herrick

I am “My first job was in a video rental store” years old, and one of my favorite movies to check out and watch over and over again was Practical Magic with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. It was when I was reading the back of the box when I learned that it was based on a book (and, I’m not even kidding, sixteen year-old me went on a spree through the store, making a list of all the movies that I loved that were based on books, and then checking them all out from the library next door. Why no, I was NOT popular in high school, why do you ask?) Although they differ greatly, I’ve always loved both the movie and the book by Alice Hoffman, and so when I learned about The Sparrow Sisters by Ellen Herrick (William Morrow Paperbacks, 2015), I knew I had to read it.

The Sparrow sisters are practically an institution in their tiny New England town of Granite Point, where they run a garden that blossoms nearly year round and entirely out of season. Patience, the youngest sister, can cure what ails you, mixing up her remedies in blue glass bottles tucked away by the women of the town (and sometimes the men, too). Their family has been part of the town and its history since history began, but the delicate balance between the slightly eccentric and seemingly magical sisters and the stodgy, gossipy locals is upset when Henry Carlyle, injured war veteran, becomes the new town doctor. His fascination with Patience and her unscientific manner of healing the townsfolk sets off a chain of events that leaves a child dead, Patience on trial, and the weather in an upheaval. Granite Point is finally on the national map, but not in a way anyone ever wanted to be.

The Sparrow Sisters had some serious shoes to fill with its comparison to Practical Magic, and for me, it didn’t fill them. The magical realism in this novel felt extremely forced and not at all nuanced as it did in Practical Magic (or, for that matter, in Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen, which I also enjoyed). The townspeople are both suspicious of the sisters and Patience’s abilities, yet they never question how the garden manages to grow out-of-season fruits, vegetables, and flowers, and they all know to sniff Patience in order to ascertain her mood (different flower scents mean different feelings, and she apparently just emits them?). I enjoy magical realism and reading stories set in our world but where small acts of magic are possible, but the magic here didn’t feel like it came naturally to Patience; it felt as though it were heaped upon her in place of a personality (and constantly getting snippy with people does not count as a personality, either). Multiple times, it felt like I was being slapped in the face while the author screamed, “Look at how full of magic Patience is! She smells like herbs and flowers, it’s so whimsical! ISN’T THIS AMAZING?”, and that’s not what I’m looking for in a book. I’d rather make slow discoveries via rich writing that hints around a character’s supernatural abilities, and that’s not what this book was, at all.

The trial comes about when someone Patience cares deeply for takes a deadly plant from her garden and dies after ingesting it, and she’s accused of killing them. The story fell apart for me at that point, because Patience was well aware of that plant and how it could kill, and she was also aware of how literally that particular person took things. Knowing all of this, I felt as though she would have taken better care to keep that particular person safe around and from this plant, and thus, the major conflict of the story didn’t work for me, either.

The writing style strayed toward ‘choppy’ as well, which at times came from overuse of ‘subject-verb, subject-verb, subject-verb’ in too many sentences in a row. When it comes to good writing, varying sentence structure makes a huge difference in the flow of a story, and this absolutely missed the mark on that for me.

Sadly, The Sparrow Sisters lacked the charm that Practical Magic and Garden Spells held for me. There’s a second book in the series, but I have zero interest in spending more time with these characters, and so I’ll look elsewhere to get my next fix of magical realism.

Visit Ellen Herrick’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.