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In 'Instructions for Dancing', A Cynical Former Romantic Gets A Magical Surprise


17-year-old Evie Thomas has sworn off love so much so that even all her favorite romance novels don't do anything for her anymore. She's giving them away, dropping them off at a little free library when a mysterious woman suggests she take a look at a book called "Instructions For Dancing." And then Evie starts to have visions. Nicola Yoon's new book is also called "Instructions For Dancing," and she joins me now to pick up the story. Hello.

NICOLA YOON: Hi. Thank you so much for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Evie loves romance novels, and I must say I relate. I do, too. Or at least she used to. When we meet her at the beginning of the book, she's grieving. What happened?

YOON: So Evie is a romantic goober, as I am. And when we first meet her, she's disillusioned with love because her favorite couple, her parents, have gotten divorced. She's become quite cynical. She, you know, sort of eschews all the tropes that she used to love. And then into that mix, of course, will come Xavier, who is a rock star, who is spontaneous and sweet and lovely. And he challenges her notion of what love is worth.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And, you know, she meets Xavier, also called X, when she takes this book from a woman - kind of fairy godmother - or anyway, a mysterious figure. And she starts getting these visions. She starts seeing things when people kiss. Describe what her visions are and how this weird power works.

YOON: Right. So whenever Evie sees a couple kiss for the first time, she has a vision of the entire history of their relationship. So she sees the, you know, sort of happy, swoony beginning through the middle where they're content and then to the end. And what she takes from this power is that all relationships end, right? It's inevitable. And her question then is, what's the point of love if everything ends?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, talk to me about why you wanted to tackle this. When you wrote this, you were going through a difficult time yourself.

YOON: I was. So my mother had cancer. And for a long, long time, we did not actually know if she was going to make it. It was really touch and go. And my father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer, and then he passed away a year later. You know, I watched my mom-in-law and my father struggle through the loss and the potential loss, and it was just so acute. And, you know, of course, I was also struggling with potentially losing these people that I love so much. And one of the questions I just kept thinking about is, why do we do this as humans? Why do we love so hard, you know, and hold people so close when it makes us so vulnerable? And so I just made Evie struggle with the same thing in a more literal way, right? So she has to see the relationships and to bring this message home to her and then find a way to get through that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dance obviously plays a big part in this book. You know, X and Evie take ballroom dancing, which is kind of interesting and magical in its own way because it doesn't necessarily fit with your idea of what two rockin' 17-year-olds should be doing with their time in Los Angeles.

YOON: (Laughter). Right.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But that also has a personal story for you.

YOON: Right. So my husband, David, and I took ballroom dancing when we were getting married. And then for research for the book, we decided to take private lessons just so I could bug the instructor and really sort of get all the details. And we had so much fun. It was such a good time. But for the book, in order to have a really cynical girl be challenged by the world, what better way than to put, like, a really cute boy six inches away from her face - right? - while they're dancing sexy dances. Like, it was just - was like, come on, it's got to be ballroom dancing.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: We should mention at this point, of course, that your husband is the author David Yoon. And you're starting an imprint with him called Joy Revolution. Can you tell me about that?

YOON: Joy Revolution is a young adult imprint at Random House Children's Books, and we're focused on telling big, swoony love stories starring people of color, written by people of color. I think one of the things that David and I have always talked about is the way people that look like us. David is Korean American. I'm Jamaican. And never the main characters in big love stories, right? We're always sort of the sassy sidekick or someone. Do you know what I mean? Like, I am not a sassy person.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I know what you mean.

YOON: (Laughter) I have never been sassy a day in my life, but it's always, like, the Black girl sassy sidekick or, you know, someone, the doctor on the side.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Fast talking.

YOON: Right. The truthteller. Yes. Right. And we'll tell you the real truth, right? And how come girls like that are never at the center? Not smart and sweet and vulnerable and beautiful and the one that gets the boy, the girl or whoever they want, right? Black girls fall in love all the time. I fell in love every day in high school (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I have to ask you, would you want the power that Evie has...

YOON: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...To sort of be able to see (laughter) people - the trajectory of people's relationship? I have to say I was like, well, the voyeuristic part of me thinks that that's awesome. But then there's, like, the weight of that, too - to people's love stories. And it feels like it's a lot.

YOON: Yeah, I think I would not want the power, but I will say that I am absolutely the girl at Starbucks eavesdropping on conversations, right?


YOON: So, like, if you're in a couple and you're fighting, I am absolutely listening and taking mental notes. It's just the writer in me. I cannot help it. But I don't think I would want to know specifically how someone else's relationship ends. That's just - it's too much power. It's not good for you.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nicola Yoon. Her new book is "Instructions For Dancing." Thank you very much.

YOON: Thank you so much for having me. This has been wonderful. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.