Books contemporary fantasy fiction Magic Realism Romance Young Adult

“Instructions for Dancing” by Nicola Yoon: Love doesn’t have to last a lifetime, to last a lifetime

Nicola Yoon’s newest novel Instructions for Dancing is the story I have been waiting for – this young adult tale of passion, growing up, and discovering love and limitations, will have you laughing and crying right along with the characters.

This powerful, beautiful book tells the story of a girl who discovers for the first time that sometimes love doesn’t last forever, and struggles to deal with the inevitability of heartbreak as she witnesses everyone around her – from family, to friends, to strangers – fall in love. It’s relatable, it’s enchanting and it’s incredibly moving. Instructions for Dancing might just be Yon’s best novel yet.

Evie is disillusioned about love ever since her dad left her mum for another woman – she’s even throwing out her beloved romance novel collection.

When she’s given a copy of a book called Instructions for Dancing, and follows a note inside to a dilapidated dance studio, she discovers she has a strange and unwelcome gift. When a couple kisses in front of her, she can see their whole relationship play out – from the moment they first catch each other’s eye to the last bitter moments of their break-up.

For Evie, it confirms everything she thinks she knows about love – that it doesn’t last.

But at the dance studio she meets X – tall, dreadlocked, fascinating – and they start to learn to dance, together. Can X help break the spell that Evie is under? Can he change Evie’s mind about love?

Instructions for Dancing is the perfect blend of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White and Robyn Schneider’s Extraordinary Means. If you’re a fan of love stories tinged with pain and fueled with epiphanies, then Instructions for Dancing is definitely for you.

There’s so much to say about this story so I’ll jump straight to it – I absolutely adore the message in this book. It’s a message that I feel should be related to all young people who struggle with the idea of letting someone in, to those who struggle with the vulnerability that loving someone entails and who feel uneasy about the possibility of getting heartbroken.

The message in this story is simple, through Evie and X, Yoon was trying to show us that yes, not everything, not all love, lasts forever, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find happiness in it and enjoy it while it lasts. It’s less to do with how much time we have, and more about what we choose to do with it that counts. And sure, we’re all going to get hurt in life – and love comes with it’s own special brand of heartbreak. But it’s about finding those who are worth being hurt for. Because in the end, being hurt by them will be worth having loved them and been loved by them.

Around the middle of the novel, Evie’s dad gives her some advice:

“If you get very, very lucky in this life, then you get to love another person so hard and so completely that when you lose them, it rips you apart. I think the pain is the proof of a life well lived and loved.”

– Nicola Yoon, Instructions for Dancing

Still unconvinced, Evie turns to her mother and asks her how she can consider dating someone else after having her heart broken:

“But look what happened with Dad. Look how it ended.”
“You think because your father and I didn’t last, our love was any less real? Once upon a time, your father and I loved each other enough to make you and your sister. That alone makes all the other nonsense worth it.”

– Nicola Yoon, Instructions for Dancing

Just because it might not last forever in no way means that it wasn’t real. If anything forever is exactly the reason why we need to enjoy things and be happy with them and love them when we have it. It makes us appreciate it more, and not take it for granted.

Forever isn’t something that should concern us too much – maybe the love we have with someone will last a lifetime; maybe it won’t. And if it doesn’t, then sure, it will probably be devastating. But what we have now makes us happy and that’s the important bit. The middle. And we can live in the middle, and feel safe and happy, knowing that no matter what happens we’ll always have had this.

The presence of hurt in no way diminishes the feeling of having loved that person and been loved by them. We only feel hurt and pain because of how much love we had. Which makes the pain worth it.

Besides, love doesn’t have to last a lifetime, to last a lifetime.

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