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“Our fingertips brush and it feels like I’m going to slip away from him. But I don’t. At the last second, I curl my fingers and our hands catch. And then I do the thing you’re supposed to do when you find love. I hold on,” Evie. ― Instructions for Dancing
Instructions for Dancing
by Nicola Yoon
Diverse Characters, LGBTQ, Strong Female Character
High school senior Yvette “Evie” Thomas used to believe in contemporary romance and the power of love; however, this belief has begun to fade. Her parents got divorced when her father cheated; Evie carries the burden of knowing why her parents divorced. Evie has given up on romance altogether, donating her shelves of contemporary romance novels. Then a chance encounter suddenly leaves Evie with the power to see a couple’s past, present, and future romance when she sees them kiss! However, she can only see a couple’s romantic history if they are in love and she only sees it once (it is also possible for Evie to see her own if she keeps her eyes open when she kisses someone).
Then a mysterious woman and a book on how to dance suddenly lead her on a path that she desperately wishes to stray from. Evie finds La Brea Dance Studio, where she learns dance with Xavier Woods, better known as X. He’s exactly like the guys in her romance books: handsome, tall, and a rock musician, the kind of guy Evie needs to stay away from. But X doesn’t hesitate to enter a ballroom dance competition with Evie, even though they just met.
Instructions for Dancing is told from the perspective of Evie and includes the usual narrative style as well as text messages, lists, and small excerpts of dance instructions. In addition, Evie’s visions are separate chapters that use a unique font to indicate that Evie is looking into a couple’s romantic history. The different narrative styles add interest to the story, putting us in the head of Evie. It is realistic to how a teenage girl would think and remember things, such as putting things into lists or remembering funny text messages with her friends. However, the formatting can be a bit jarring for some people and can ruin the pacing of the story.
Evie’s visions have taught her one thing and one thing only: love ends in heartbreak. She believes that love always ends with heartbreak and that all romance novels have lied about their happily ever afters. “What I’ve learned over the last three weeks is that all my old romance novels ended too quickly. Chapters were missing from the end. If they told the real story―the entire story―each couple would’ve eventually broken up, due to neglect or boredom or betrayal or distance or death. Given enough time, all love stories turn into heartbreak stories. Heartbreak = love + time.”
Therefore she approaches love with caution and hesitance, but as she takes ballroom dance lessons and gets to learn more about X, she begins to navigate the world of love around her. Evie learns about love beyond the surface level. Not all love is what it seems on the surface. No one comes out of love unscathed, but Evie learns that it’s not the ending that matters and that love, while hurtful, is worth holding onto.
Instructions for Dancing serves as peak escapism for high school girls who dream of romance. X and Evie are well-developed characters with unique personalities of their own. The novel is filled with sweet moments of romance, friendship, and familial love. Instructions for Dancing is a typical romance that emphasizes the importance of platonic and familial love and shows how it is entwined with romantic love. Regardless, Instructions for Dancing is a must-read, especially for readers who enjoy romance and wish for a fantasy filled with dancing and a diverse cast of characters.
- There are times where sex is suggested with vague language such as a portion of Evie’s vision with her and X. “There’s only one bed. He kisses me and my hand slips under his shirt. His lips are on my neck. . . Then we are nothing but hands and lips and wanting and having.”
- When describing one of her former favorite romance novels, Cupcakes and Kisses, Evie says the best scene is where the leads are covered in flour and icing. “There’s kissing and a lot of dessert related wordplay: sugars lips, sweet buns, sticky situations.”
- Evie’s mother wears an apron that says, “Kiss the Cook.”
- There are many moments in the book where kissing is the main gesture of affection between two people in love. It is also the catalyst for Evie having her visions.
- Evie catches her father “kissing a woman who wasn’t Mom” in his office.
- Evie and other characters describe X as being hot and/or sexy.
- When Cassidy tells her friends that she’s thinking of getting breasts implants, the group starts joking about breasts (specifically of Martin, one of Evie’s friends, having never touched a pair).
- When Fifi says X is good-looking, Maggie asks her “not to undress my grandchild with her eyes.” Fifi retorts, “You prefer I should use my hands?”
- Many times, groupies are mentioned, particularly in the context that they are fans who have sex with rock musicians. For example, when Evie sees X and his band perform for the first time, she thinks, “I get why groupies are a thing. Because up there onstage with his guitar, X’s sexy is undeniable.”
- Over a text, X asks, “What are gorgeous mounds of flesh?” Since he’s reading Cupcakes and Kisses, this mostly refers to breasts.
- When at the Danceball competition, Evie sees X and thinks about undressing him. “But it’s the top two buttons that snag my attention. They’re unbuttoned, and for a second I see my fingers unbuttoning a third and a fourth, until―”
- Someone compares an opponent’s tango dance to “good sex.”
- In the final chapter, Evie says, “We’ll have made love.”
- In Evie’s list of (former) favorite romance genres, she lists enemies to lovers as one of her favorites, where she says, “Asking the perennial question will they kill each other or will they kiss each other?”
Drugs and Alcohol
- During a bonfire, Evie and her friends drink white wine that was swiped from a parent.
- When Cassidy says Sophie is so pretty, Sophie asks, “How drunk are you?”
- At a pool party, Sophie asks, “God, Cassidy, how much did you drink?”
- After apologizing to Cassidy and Sophie for her sudden outburst, “Cassidy pours herself another glass of wine.”
- At another bonfire, the group drinks more and they begin to attempt to dance following Evie and X’s instruction.
- Once when a mysterious woman appears and surprises her, Evie says “Holy fuckballs.” The woman responds, “Though one wonders what a fuckball might be.”
- Shit is used multiple times.
- When talking about the death of his friend and bandmate Clay, X says “it was a fucking adult” who killed Clay in a hit and run because the adult was texting and driving.
- X compliments Evie but is cut off because of his language. “Jesus God, Evie, you look fucking―”
- When applying Evie’s makeup for the competition, her sister Danica says, “Oh my God, don’t mess up your face!”
- Evie has a list of her (former) favorite romance genres. Paranormal romance has its own small list and includes vampires, angels, and shapeshifters.
- A whole chapter is dedicated to Evie thinking she was a witch and wishing her visions were just “witchy powers.”
- Evie’s friend Martin explains the general plot of the Tom Hanks movie Big which involves a young boy magically wishing he was big to the fortune teller Zoltar. He does this for Evie to understand what she must do if she wants the visions to end.
- When talking to her father about her parents’ divorce, Evie exclaims, “You believe in God. Tell me why He would make the world like this. Tell me why He’s so cruel.”
by Emma Hua