Instructions for Dancing
By Sandie Angulo Chen,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Emotional, memorable tale of girl who has romantic visions.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Readers will learn about ballroom dancing.
Take a risk on love, even if it's just for a season or a moment in one's life. Love can be transformational, even when it doesn't end in marriage. Courage, empathy, and teamwork are all demonstrated in the main characters' storylines.
Positive Role Models
Evie is intelligent, curious, and thoughtful. She's hardworking and a loyal friend. X is attentive, protective, and loving. He wants to follow his dreams and live in the present. Incredibly diverse cast of characters. The main couple is Black, and their friends are from diverse backgrounds, and there's White, Asian, Latinx. LGBTQ+ representation.
Violence & Scariness
A fatal accident is discussed, as is the future death of someone in Evie's visions.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Evie sees a lot of kissing and making out in person and in her visions. Discussion and "vision" of sex and losing her virginity. Teens talk about making out and hooking up. Evie caught her father kissing another woman; talk of infidelity.
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Occasional strong language includes "f--k," "f--king," "s--t," "bitch," "a--hole," "ass," "damn," as well as "Jesus" and "God" as an exclamation.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Underage high school students drink at parties, and one character in particular is known to drink too much. The characters go to a gig at a club that Evie says smells like beer, smoke, and pee.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Instructions for Dancing is best-selling author Nicola Yoon's third young adult romance. Set in Los Angeles, it's about a high-school senior who doesn't believe in love and mysteriously ends up with the supernatural ability to see the greatest hits in any couple's romance if she spots them kissing. It's the author's first romance to feature two Black characters (her other two were interracial love stories), and the supporting characters are a variety of racial, ethnic, and LGBTQ+ identities. There's occasional strong language ("s--t," "f--k," "a--hole," "bitch") and some passionate making out, discussions (and visions of) kissing, and in one case having sex for the first time (but it's a brief description).
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What's the Story?
INSTRUCTIONS FOR DANCING is not a traditional love story. Ever since Los Angeles high-school senior Evie Thomas discovered her father was having an affair that led to her parents' divorce, she no longer believes in love. The day she decides to donate all of her beloved romance novels to a Little Free Library, Evie meets a mysterious woman she assumes is a librarian. The woman insists Evie take a book titled Instructions for Dancing, and soon after the most bizarre thing happens when she sees a couple kissing -- she is struck with a vision of the couple as their romance first began, then their current kiss, and then, horrifyingly, how their romance ends. She thinks it's a fluke, but when it happens a couple of more times, she tells her best friend Martin about the sudden supernatural ability, and he encourages her to return the book to the La Brea Dance Studio that is stamped on the book. There, she meets the attractive older Black couple who owns the studio, a demanding Eastern European dance instructor who insists she take a class, and of course a hipster-hot guy around her age called X (for Xavier), who happens to be the grandson of the owners. Eventually the owners convince Evie to partner with X for an upcoming amateur ballroom dance competition, and she reluctantly agrees, believing if she learns to dance, she'll stop having her visions. Meanwhile, she attempts not to see any couples kissing (which is harder than she imagined), guard her heart against X, who grows more attractive by the minute, and deal with her feelings about her father's upcoming wedding to "the other woman."
Is It Any Good?
A beautifully written if occasionally heartbreaking coming-of-age story about love, loss, and what it means to grow from both. Evie is smart, loyal, and curious, but her father's infidelity has ruined the idea of love and particularly happily ever afters for her. She's so affected by what she considers a curse that she even distances herself from her and Martin's two other best friends, Sophie and Cassidy, who begin a relationship that because of a spontaneous kiss, Evie knows will end eventually. So how can a girl so surrounded by the end of love expect to find it? Author Nicola Yoon works her writerly magic by making X the most wonderful of love interests. He's not only ridiculously attractive, but he's completely invested in his art, wants to be a rock-star musician, and embraces the present, the "yes," the living in the moment. That's an ideal counterbalance to Evie's need for a plan, for an answer, for rules to guard her heart and her life. Their banter is comical but also substantive, and they challenge each other in that sweet way only 18 year olds can. She encourages him to finish high school, he convinces her not to overthink and to perhaps give her father a second chance (she barely speaks to him).
Evie's friend group is also well-written, particularly Martin who is one of the few "straight male best friends" in YA who doesn't have a crush on his female bestie. In fact, Martin has eyes only for Evie's slightly younger sister Danica but can't work up the nerve to do anything about it. Martin believes Evie's unbelievable powers and supports her even when he doesn't always agree with her choices. The only tiny hiccup in the book may not bother all readers, but those who are sensitive to stories that justify adultery may feel uncomfortable with how Evie's father and his mistress-turned-fiancée are depicted, so teens who've been through a parental divorce (or even parents who stayed together post-infidelity) may have a tough time with that. There might not be a clear-cut happily-ever-after, but readers who can handle bittersweet and introspective stories that make you cry and think will love it.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how dancing is depicted in Instructions for Dancing. What does Evie learn from her dance lessons and growing relationship with X? What can dancing teach people about themselves?
Who's a role model in this book? How do Evie and X exemplify courage and empathy? How is teamwork particularly important in dancing? Why are character strengths important to identify in books, movies, and TV shows?
Did the book end how you imagined? Why do you think the author made that particular narrative choice? Talk about other books with similar resolutions.
- Author: Nicola Yoon
- Genre: Romance
- Topics: Arts and Dance, Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, High School
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: June 1, 2021
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 18
- Number of pages: 304
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: July 2, 2021
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