Instructions for Dancing: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola YoonEvie Thomas is done with love.

After watching her parents’ marriage fall apart, she knows firsthand that love is a scam. Real life doesn’t have happy endings. The romance novels she used to adore are all lies.

While her mother tries to move on and her younger sister falls headfirst into every relationship she can, Evie is still angry at her father. And she’s furious that she wasted so much time believing in something that never lasts.

Giving up on love seems like the easiest course of action until Evie’s plan to donate her romance novel collection to a little free library goes horribly wrong. After accepting a mysterious book from a stranger, Evie can suddenly see people fall in love when they kiss. Her new visions trace each relationship from its tender beginning to the inevitable conclusion. It’s more than anyone can take but especially someone who is done with love.

Evie’s hunt for a way to stop whatever is happening leads her to La Brea Dance Studio and the owners’ charming, very cute nephew X. Where Evie is cautious, X is impulsive. If Evie is reserved, X is open–he always says yes. In other words, they are complete opposites and, through a series of events Evie barely understands, they are also suddenly partners in an amateur dance competition.

All Evie wants to do is stop her weird visions. If that means hanging out with X, fine. Falling for him is definitely not part of the plan, no matter how cute X might be. But the more time Evie spends with X, the more obvious it is that falling for him is as inevitable as standing close during the tango.

After witnessing so many heartbreaks firsthand, Evie knows that love always ends. As she gets closer to X, she’ll have to decide if having love at all is enough to risk the inevitable heartbreak in Instructions for Dancing (2021) by Nicola Yoon.

Find it on Bookshop.

In many ways Instructions for Dancing feels like a natural next step (pun intended) to follow up Yoon’s blockbuster sophomore novel The Sun is Also a Star. Through Evie’s visions this story spins out from main character Evie’s first person narration to show a world that is much larger, and more beautiful, that cynical Evie is at first willing to acknowledge. Elements of fabulism (think magic realism but not by latinx authors) add unexpected magic and whimsy to this subtle story. Evie and X are Black and backed up by an inclusive cast with strong friendships and memorable adults notably including X’s grandparents.

Evie’s reluctant immersion in the world of competitive dance adds a lot of humor to a story that tackles weighty topics like love and loss with nuance and care. Evie’s friend group also plays an important role in the novel as all of them prepare for the end of high school and what that will mean for each of them and their friend web.

Instructions for Dancing is the definition of bittersweet with an ending that is sure to garner a few tears from even the coldest of hearts. With a story that carefully balances hope and pragmatism, Instructions for Dancing is affirming and, ultimately, an ode to love in all of its forms.

Possible Pairings: What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure, The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee, Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, The Art of Wishing by Lindsay Ribar, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre by Robin Talley

*An advance e-copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Read-a-Likes for Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Nicola Yoon’s debut novel Everything, Everything took the book world by storm when it was published in 2015 and won even more fans when the story came to life on the big screen with the film adaptation starring Amandla Stenberg and Nick Robinsom. If you’re looking for more read-a-likes now that you’ve read the book and watched the movie, this booklist has everything, everything you might want to read next.

Click titles to read my reviews where applicable.

You can also shop this list on Bookshop.

collage art for Booklist: Read-a-Likes for Everything, Everything by Nicola YoonIf You Want a Book Where a Character is More Than Their Illness:

cover art for The Memory Book, Zac and Mia, Before I Die, Hold Me Like a Breath

 

  • The Memory Book by Lara Avery: Sammie doesn’t believe that one diagnosis can change her entire life. She starts writing down her memories big and small as her degenerative illness, Niemann-Pick Type C, begins to take its toll on her memories and her health.
  • Zac and Mia by A. J. Betts: Zac and Mia would never be friends friends in the real world. But different rules apply when you’re in a hospital.
  • Before I Die by Jenny Downham: Tessa knows she is dying. Instead of waiting to disappear without a trace, Tessa decides to complete her “before I die” list in the precious weeks she has left.
  • Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt: When disaster strikes, Penelope is thrust into a world of secrets and betrayals she is ill-equipped to understand. As she struggles to make sense of her shattered past and shape her own future she’ll also learn that life isn’t always a fairy tale. Sometimes you have to make your own happy ending.

If You Want a Book That Goes the Distance (Literally):

cover art for Let's Get Lost, So Much Closer, In Real Life, Anna and the French Kiss

  • Let’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid: When Leila arrives right when she’s needed most in her ridiculously red car she changes the lives of Hudson, Bree, Elliot and Sonia forever. But it will take a 4,268 mile road trip for Leila to realize what she needs herself.
  • So Much Closer by Susane Colasanti: Brooke moved to New York City for Scott Abrams. Will she wind up staying for herself?
  • In Real Life by Jessica Love: Hannah thinks the Nick she’s known online can’t be that different from Nick in real life. But she only has one night in Vegas to figure that out and decide if she’s ready to risk her heart trying to make their friendship into something more.
  • Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins: Anna and Etienne have a lot of near-misses and close calls that bring their friendship to the verge of being something more. Even while Etienne is very much still taken. But anything seems possible in the City of Lights. Maybe Anna and Etienne really are meant to be, maybe Anna will even learn some French.

If You Want a Book With a Sweet Romance:

cover art for The Great American Whatever, To All the Boys I've Loved Before, I'm Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl, American Street

  • The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle: Quinn doesn’t know how to deal with his sister’s death but his best friend insists that it’s time for Quinn to rejoin the living. One haircut later Quinn meets a hot guy at his first college parts and starts to think the movie version of his life might have a happy ending after all.
  • To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han: No one was ever supposed to see Lara Jean’s love letters except for Lara Jean. They were never meant for anyone else. With all of her feelings laid bare for these five boys, Lara Jean isn’t sure how to go back to the girl she used to be before the letters were delivered.
  • I’m Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl by Gretchen McNeil: When Bea loses her boyfriend to quirky new girl Toile, she decides to use her mathematically proven Formula for social happiness in high school to reinvent herself as eccentric and adorable “Trixie”.
  • American Street by Ibi Zoboi:Fabiola Toussaint and her mother arrive in the United States eager to join Fabiola’s aunt and cousins. But her mother is detained by ICE at a facility in New Jersey and Fabiola arrives alone. Fabiola finds new friends and first love, but she also learns that nothing in America is what she imagined back home in Haiti–not even her new home at the corner of American Street and Joy Road.

If You Want a Book That Has Some Unexpected Moments:

cover art for Something Real, The Boy in the Black Suit, My Kind of Crazy, Highly Illogical Behavior

  • Something Real by Heather Demetrios: When their family’s reality show is cancelled Bonnie™ Baker hopes that she and her twelve siblings can start living a normal life. Then her mother announces that Baker’s Dozen is going back on the air and Bonnie™ will have to take drastic measures if she wants to protect the normal life she’s started to treasure.
  • The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds: What happens when a boy who works at a funeral home meets a girl who never cries?
  • My Kind of Crazy by Robin Reul: When Hank’s promposal attempt ends with a fiery lawn, budding pyromaniac Peyton Breedlove blackmails him into friendship.
  • Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley: Solomon hasn’t left his house in three years. Lisa, with help from her boyfriend Clark, decides to fix Sol and his agoraphobia. And write a scholarship-winning essay about it. But it turns out psychology isn’t so straightforward when love and friendship come into the mix.

collage art for Booklist: Read-a-Likes for Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

This piece originally appeared on YALSA’s Hub Blog in 2017.

The Sun is Also a Star: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Because everything looks like chaos up close. Daniel thinks it’s a matter of scale. If you pull back far enough and wait for long enough, then order emerges.”

“Maybe their universe is just taking longer to form.”

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola YoonNatasha believes in science and facts. Her life doesn’t have room for fate or destiny. Which is why it’s so hard to hope for a miracle on her last day in New York City. Natasha’s family is going to be deported to Jamaica in twelve hours. Natasha doesn’t believe in long shots but it’s the only shot she has left to try and stay in the city that’s been her home since she was a child. She doesn’t have time to waste meeting a cute boy and maybe falling in love with him. Not when she is so busy trying to balance her practical nature with her hopes for some last-minute magic.

Daniel is used to being a good son. Not the best son because that’s always been his older brother. But solidly second best. Except now his brother screwed up big time and Daniel’s parents are pinning their hopes for having a Successful-Ivy-League-Graduate-Doctor in the family on Daniel. The problem is that Daniel wants to be a poet–something his Korean immigrant parents can’t understand. At. All. Daniel believes in poetry and fate which is why he knows the moment he sees Natasha on the street in Times Square that their lives are about the change forever.

It feels like the universe or fate or something Big is conspiring to bring Natasha and Daniel into each others’ lives. But over the course of a day filled with possibility, neither Natasha nor Daniel is sure if that will be enough to keep them together in The Sun is Also a Star (2016) by Nicola Yoon.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Sun is Also a Star is Yoon’s second novel. It was a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and has received six starred reviews. (UPDATE:) The Sun is Also a Star also received an honor for the 2017 Printz Award.

All of that is impressive on its own but it’s also important to remember that we often hold contemporary romances like this one up to a higher standard when considering them for awards based on literary merit which makes this book stand out even more as both an exemplar of contemporary romance at its best and also as a generally excellent book.

The Sun is Also a Star is set over the course of one day but the plot is more far-reaching with interconnecting narratives and characters related to each other by six (or even fewer) degrees of separation.

The majority of the novel alternates between Natasha and Daniel’s first person narrations with their distinct voices and world views. Other chapters follow characters who are key to bringing Daniel and Natasha together including a depressed security guard, a subway conductor who has found god, and even Natasha and Daniel’s parents–all chronicled as brief histories. This shifting story maintains a consistent and deliberate voice thanks to the omniscient narrator whose sections contrast well with Natasha’s pragmatic nature and Daniel’s classic dreamer outlook in their respective narrations.

This thoughtful story also nicely subverts some of the traditional gender roles found in contemporary romances. Natasha is an unapologetically smart girl who works hard and knows that life isn’t fair. She is jaded and ambitious. Daniel, meanwhile, is a genuinely nice and optimistic boy who believes in the power of fate even while learning how to make his own choices and stand by them.

Everything in The Sun is Also a Star refers back–sometimes subtly and sometimes not–to the idea of love being a driving force in the universe. All of the tangential characters whose actions work to bring Natasha and Daniel together through happenstance or fate are working on some basis of love–the train conductor who has found god and loves life, the security guard who is lonely and mired in her own lack of love both from others and for herself, the attorney and his paralegal. It’s all love in one form or another. Even Natasha’s father and his actions are driven by his conflict between his love for his family and his love of performing.

Yoon does so many things in The Sun is Also a Star and she does them all well, while making it seem effortless with a combination of literary prose and a deceptively sleek plot. This book juggles multiple characters, narratives, and plot threads to create a coherent story about the many factors bringing Natasha and Daniel together as well as those which are conspiring to keep them apart. It evokes an authentic New York City setting not just a shiny tourist one but the dingy parts too. The Sun is Also a Star does all of that while offering an intellectually stimulating story that still manages to be upbeat and romantic. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhatena, The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, Love and Other Train Wrecks by Leah Konen, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick, Summer in the Invisible City by Juliana Romano, Birthday by Meredith Russo, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, Frankly in Love by David Yoon, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

*An advance copy of this title was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*