“The problem with broken hearts isn’t that they kill you. It’s that they don’t.”
Nicola Yoon is a popular YA author, and Instructions for Dancing makes it easy to see why. The combination of an interesting premise, strong characters, and deeper themes make this book hard to put down.
I started reading Instructions for Dancing thinking that it would be a lighthearted YA rom-com. The gorgeous cover and unremarkable synopsis led me to believe I knew what I was getting into, but I was wrong. Instructions for Dancing went above and beyond what I expected; it’s not just a sweet YA romance, it’s about grief, betrayal, and family relationships. Yes, it has the classic character of a jaded girl who’s afraid to fall in love, but she’s so relatable and well-written that she almost becomes a real person. Nicola Yoon said in the acknowledgments that she wrote this book while dealing with grief herself and that shines through very clearly, giving the story another element of depth.
This book is bittersweet in many ways. It’s a story about how living is a combination of love and pain, and that pain comes and goes in waves throughout the book. Most of the characters deal with heartbreak in one way or another, and they handle it very maturely. The biggest issue was in the moral opinions some of the characters advocated for, especially in terms of how they reacted to a man having had an affair. I obviously won’t get into spoilers, but the way this was handled was less than stellar. Nicola Yoon has crafted a story of heartbreak, in different ways and for different people. But above and beyond that it’s a story of love despite heartbreak, and the combination of the two has made this an emotional story you don’t want to miss.
Profanity/Language: 14 religious exclamations; 4 mild obscenities; 2 derogatory names; 11 scatological words; 2 anatomical terms; 2 offensive hand gestures; 14 F-word derivatives.
Violence/Gore: Character imagines another character dead in a joking way; a character imagines another character killing them, figuratively; report of a character’s death; conversation about the death of a character; report of a character’s funeral.
Sex/Nudity: The word “sexy” is used several times as a descriptor; two characters have had a divorce after one had an affair; a character remembers walking in on a married man kissing another woman; character thinks two minors want to be left alone so they can make out; report of characters making out; characters kiss, touch, about 1 page scene; few instances where character notices another character is attractive; a few instances where characters kiss, another character sees a brief vision of their relationship; few instances where kissing is mentioned; teenagers have conversation about breasts (about two page scene); several instances where characters flirt, kiss, dance, touch, or date; adult woman makes joke about undressing a young man; character makes joke about kissing with tongue; prominent secondary characters are lesbian, and there are a few instances where they date, kiss, flirt; character makes racy comments about dancing; mention of making out and moving around the bases; joke about seducing someone; the word “orgy” is used as a descriptor; mention of temporary hookups; divorced character is getting remarried; dance is described with sexual references; brief description of a picture of a boy dressed as a woman; male character is shirtless, girl character finds him attractive; girl imagines unbuttoning a boy’s shirt; watching characters dance is described as being like sex; three scenes where characters declare love for each other; scenes chronicle a couple’s relationship, about 7 pages; characters dance and kiss, about 2 page scene; sex is implied between young adults, one paragraph.
Mature Subject Matter
Affair, death of a friend, divorce of parents, racial issues.
A character goes to a bar to watch a concert; minors drink wine and get tipsy; mention of adults drinking; a minor gets drunk; reference to drugs; minors drink alcohol and get drunk; report of a minor getting drunk several times.