• Paperback Snob

Dancing to the end of love

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon, Penguin

Last summer, I read Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon and was blown away by her talent. I couldn’t stop thinking about her characters for ages after I had finished the book. Even now, a year later, every so often, something will reminds me of the story and send my thoughts back to its protagonists.

Nicola’s latest book, Instructions for Dancing, is another powerful meditation on life and love, with wonderful characters who linger long after the last page is turned. I finished this last night and was left feeling tearful, elated and completely in awe of the author’s incredible talent. This is definitely one of the best and most enjoyable novels I’ve ever read. We’re introduced to Evie, a disillusioned teenager whose father’s infidelity and parents’ subsequent divorce has made her cynical where romance is concerned. She’s also frustrated with her mother and sister. They appear to have accepted what has happened and forgiven Evie’s father, while Evie has nothing but contempt for him.

Then something strange happens. Every time Evie sees a couple kiss, she has a vision of their whole relationship. This includes the future as well as their past, and the inevitable end of their mutual affection. This cements Evie’s conviction that love eventually leads to pain. When she meets X who, “belongs on the cover of a romance novel about bad-boy rockers with hearts of gold,” Evie tries not to fall for him. As Evie wrestles with her undeniable attraction to X, as she also struggles with her feelings about her father as his wedding approaches. Can Evie protect herself from potential sorrow by shutting out the people in her life who already have or may one day disappoint her? Or will turning her back on different forms of love be what ultimately brings Evie heartache?

I love being in the company of Nicola Yoon’s characters. She creates protagonists that not only feel 100% authentic, but with whom you wish you could be friends in real life. Evie is so self-possessed and witty, it’s impossible not to fall in love with her and with X too. Evie’s friends and family are also brilliant, fascinating and multi-faceted. Nicola Yoon carefully and convincingly avoids limiting her characters. They all have multiple layers, so that no-one is ever in danger of becoming a stereotype, not even the philandering husband or the wicked stepmother.

The magical realism might have felt far-fetched when handled by a less skilled writer, but fits perfectly into Evie’s world. The reader suspends their belief effortlessly and these elements enrich the story beautifully. I love how imaginative the premise is and how interesting and moving all of Evie’s visions are. The scope of this novel is phenomenal; Yoon creates poignant beginnings, middles and ends for a variety of bit parts as well as the lead roles.

As the title might suggest, a large part of the plot involves Evie learning to dance and letting go of her inhibitions, and this is a fantastic metaphor. Pain is an essential part of life’s long waltz, but when we try to avoid it, we don’t get to dance. This is a magnificent story about falling in love with life and all its chaos, accepting that it won’t always be perfect, but choosing to dance anyway.

About the author:

Nicola Yoon is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Instructions for Dancing, Everything, Everything and The Sun Is Also a Star. She is a National Book Award finalist, a Michael L. Printz Honor Book recipient and a Coretta Scott King New Talent Award winner. Two of her novels have been made into major motion pictures. Nicola is also co-publisher of Joy Revolution, a Random House young adult imprint dedicated to love stories starring people of color. She grew up in Jamaica and Brooklyn, and lives in Los Angeles with her husband, the novelist David Yoon, and their daughter.

Instructions for Dancing is published by Penguin on 3rd June - view this book on the publisher's website

A huge thank you to the publisher for the advance reader copy I received via NetGalley - all opinions expressed are my own.