Nicola Yoon is the No. 1 New York Times bestselling author of Everything Everything and The Sun Is Also a Star, both of which have been adapted into movies. Her newest young adult novel, Instructions for Dancing, will be released June 1 — and if you can't wait that long, BuzzFeed Books has an exclusive excerpt to show you. But first, we asked Nicola a little bit about what we can expect.
Hi, Nicola! We’re thrilled to reveal an exclusive excerpt from Instructions for Dancing. Can you tell us a little bit about the book and the excerpt?
Nicola: Thanks so much! Instructions for Dancing is about a girl named Evie who suddenly finds herself with a strange ability: Whenever she witnesses a couple kiss for the first time, she sees a vision of the entire history of their relationship. She sees how they began, significant moments in the relationship, and, finally, the (inevitable) end. In the excerpt you’re about to read, you’ll learn how Evie gets her strange ability, and experience one of her visions for yourself.
Ohh, this sounds so intriguing! I can only picture what kinds of trouble that could cause her. How is this different from your previous YA books, if at all, and what inspired you to write it?
Nicola: It’s different in that there’s a supernatural element to this book that wasn’t in Everything, Everything or The Sun Is Also a Star. It’s very much the same in that it asks big questions about love. I was inspired to write it because of a question I was grappling with: Is love worth the heartbreak and sorrow that can come with it? It’s the question Evie has to answer for herself throughout the novel.
That's certainly a big question. Continue scrolling to read the excerpt from Instructions for Dancing!
BY THE TIME I get downstairs the next morning, Mom’s already left for her shift at the hospital. Danica is at the dining table taking pictures of the brownies she and Mom made. They’re arranged into a pyramid on one of Mom’s fancy new cake platters. Danica is from the jaunty‑angle school of picture taking. She tilts her phone and circles the brownie pyramid, taking picture after jaunty picture.
I get myself cereal and sit at the table next to her. We’ve been in this apartment for six months, but it still feels temporary, like I’m just visiting. I keep waiting to get back to my real life.
Compared to our old house, this place is small. I miss having our own private backyard. Now we share a courtyard with twelve other apartments. Our house had two bathrooms, but now we only have one. Mostly, though, I miss how every room held our memories.
Danica settles on a photo and slides her phone to me so I can see her post. “You can’t even tell they’re burnt,” she says with pride.
She’s right. They do look perfect. I scroll through her posts. There’s a selfie of her and Mom dusted with flour, holding a big block of chocolate and laughing, that makes me wish I’d stayed and helped. I read through the hashtags—#motherdaughterbakenight #blackgirlmagicbaking #perfectbrowniesareperfect—before sliding the phone back to her.
“How come you’re not at brunch?” she asks.
Usually I spend Sunday mornings with my best friends at Surf City Waffle, the absolute best waffle place in all of Los Angeles. This morning, though, they’re all busy.
“Everyone’s got stuff,” I say.
“So you’re just gonna hang around here, then?” she asks, and not in a way that makes me think she wants me to hang around here.
I drop my spoon back into the bowl and take a good look at her. Most days, she looks like a supermodel from the ’70s with her enormous Afro, bright glittery makeup and vintage clothes.
Right now she looks even more beautiful than usual. If I had to guess, I’d say she has a date. But I don’t have to guess, because the doorbell rings a second later. A huge smile breaks across her face, and she runs to the door with a squeal.
In the last year, Danica has had eight different boyfriends, which is an average of 0.667 boyfriends per month or 0.154 boyfriends per week. Anyway, my problem is not the quantity or even the quality of her boyfriends (to be clear, the quality could be better. I don’t know why she chooses boys who are so much less interesting and smart than she is), it’s the fact that she’s dating at all. Why am I the only one who learned the lesson of Mom and Dad’s divorce?
I leave my bowl on the table and try to sneak through the living room so I can avoid saying hello. No luck.
“Hey, Evie,” says the guy. He says “hey” as if it has more than one syllable.
“Hi,” I say back, trying to remember his name. He’s dressed in board shorts and a sleeveless T‑shirt, like he’s going to the beach or just got back from it. He’s white, tall and muscled, with long, messy blond hair. If he were furniture, he’d be a really nice‑looking shag carpet.
We stand there awkwardly for a few seconds before Danica puts us all out of our misery. “Ben and I are thinking of going to the movies,” she says. “You can come if you want.”
But the look on both their faces tells me two things:
#1: They are not thinking of going to the movies. They are thinking of staying here. Alone. In the apartment. So they can make out.
#2: If they were going to the movies, they wouldn’t want me tagging along.
Why did she even ask? Is she feeling sorry for me?
“Can’t. Have fun, though,” I say. The only thing I have to do today is go to the library and get rid of my books, but sharing that will make me feel pathetic. I go upstairs and get dressed.
When I leave, I say bye like it has more than just the one syllable.
I'M ON MY bicycle and halfway to the library when I remember that today is Sunday. My library is closed on Sundays.
Going back home right now while Danica and Ben are “hanging out” isn’t really an option. It’s one of those beautiful spring days when the morning fog lingers and the air smells wet and new. I decide to head to the park at La Brea Tar Pits, but with a detour through Hancock Park.
The Hancock Park neighborhood is only ten minutes from our apartment, but it might as well be another world. The houses here are as big as castles. All they’re missing are moats, portcullises, dragons and damsels in distress. Every time we drive through here, Mom says it’s a crime that houses like these exist in a city with so much homelessness. She treats a lot of those homeless people in the ER.
I ride slowly, meandering down street after street, gawking at the enormous, pristine lawns and the enormously expensive cars.
Eventually I find myself on a street lined on both sides by jasmine bushes and overgrown jacaranda trees. The branches overhang the street and form a canopy of purple petals. I feel like I’m riding through a tunnel into a fairy tale.
The sun slips behind a cloud, and the air is suddenly colder. I pull over onto the sidewalk and take my jacket from my backpack. As I’m about to ride off again, I spot one of those small wooden neighborhood library boxes. It’s bright blue and looks like a miniature house with a gabled roof and weathered white doors that are latched shut. A small placard reads Little Free Library.
“You certainly have a lot of books for us, dear,” says a woman just as I’m propping up my bike.
I scream and whip around. An old woman is standing behind me, not even a foot away.
“Holy fuckballs,” I say, and then slap my hand over my mouth. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to curse. I didn’t see you there.”
She chuckles at me and moves closer. Her skin is a pale and thin brown, like weathered paper.
“Never mind about the cursing,” she says. “Though one wonders what a fuckball might be.”
I smile but look past her. Where did she even come from? “Is this your library?” I ask.
“Well, I made it, but of course it’s for everyone. Do you know about these? The idea is to get people reading and actually talking to their neighbors instead of just living next door to them.” She rubs her hands together. “Now, what do you have for us today?”
I swing my backpack to the ground and take out an armful of books.
She takes some from me and presses them close to her chest. “These are very well loved,” she says, looking down at the titles. She’s one of those people who mouths words as she reads. It makes it seem like she’s chanting a weird spell. Barely There; Cupcakes and Kisses; Destiny’s Duke; Love, Set, Match; Tiger’s Heart.
“They’re all great,” I say. My voice comes out in a scratchy whisper. I clear my throat. “You should read them.”
“Why are you giving them away?” she asks.
She’s standing closer now, still clutching the books she took from me.
I grab more from my backpack and consider telling her the truth. That the books don’t feel like they belong to me anymore. That love stories are like fairy tales: you’re not meant to believe in them forever.
I stopped believing in them the day after Dad moved out.
It’s funny how a day can start out just like any other and end up so different. Sometimes I wish there were a weather report for your life. Tomorrow’s forecast is for routine high school shenanigans in the morning, but with dramatic parental betrayal by late afternoon, ending with wild emotional despair by nightfall. Details after the next commercial break.
I’d spent the day at school in shock, not quite believing that Dad wouldn’t be there when I got home. By lunchtime I was sure I could convince him that he and Mom were making a mistake. After school, I took the city bus all the way to Santa Monica and then rode my bike across campus to the Humanities building, where his office is. I took the stairs two at a time, thinking about what I was going to say. Maybe the problem was he didn’t realize how much Mom loved him. She isn’t always the most demonstrative. Or maybe they needed some more non‑parent time together, a weekly date night or something. Or to find a hobby to do together so they could “reconnect” in the way relationship experts always talk about.
I ran down the hall to his office, thinking he’d understand.
We always understood each other.
I didn’t knock on his door. I should’ve, but I didn’t. I just opened it and burst inside, hoping he’d be there. He was there. And he was kissing a woman who wasn’t Mom.
I looked back and forth between them. I tried to convince myself that maybe this relationship was new, that it’d only started in the last two days. But of course, that was silly. It wasn’t a first kiss, and it wasn’t a last one. This kiss said there was a whole history to their relationship. It was one of the many kisses that broke up our family and broke Mom’s heart and broke mine too.
Dad ran his hand down his face. “Evie, sweetheart,” he said. “You didn’t knock.”
I’m not sure if he was scolding me.
When he and Mom told us they were getting separated they said they’d just grown apart. That they still loved each other and loved us. But that was a lie. The reason Dad left us was right here, wearing a jade‑green dress and big hoop earrings and pressing her hands to her lips like somehow it could make me unsee what I’d seen.
I backed away from them and ran through the door and down the hallway and down the stairs until I was outside. Dad called out to me, but what was there to say? There wasn’t anything at all to say anymore.
That evening, Mom told me Dad had called and told her what happened. She said she was sorry I had to see that. She asked me not to tell Danica. She said she never wanted to discuss it again.
Of course, I don’t tell the old woman any of that. Instead, I shove the last of my books into the little library. When I look at her, she seems sympathetic, like somehow she heard all the things I didn’t say.
I latch the door shut. “Well, have fun reading those,” I say. She points at the library. “Aren’t you going to take a book, dear? The rules are ‘give a book, take a book.’”
“There isn’t one to take,” I say.
“Are you sure? I’m certain someone left one earlier.”
I reopen the door and spy the book she’s talking about in the back left corner.
The book is called Instructions for Dancing. It’s a slim paperback with water‑damaged and dog‑eared pages. Underneath the title there’s a simple line drawing of two sets of footprints facing each other.
I flip through the pages reading chapter titles: “Salsa,” “Bachata,” “Waltz,” “Tango,” “Merengue,” “East Coast Swing,” “Lindy Hop.” Each dance has its own sequence of numbered diagrams with arrows pointing from one set of footsteps to another.
“Maybe I should leave this for someone who wants to learn how to dance,” I say, and start to put it back.
“That someone could be you, dear.” She comes closer to me. “I insist,” she says.
It seems so important to her that I take the book and drop it into my backpack.
“Nice meeting you,” I say as I hop onto my bike.
“You too,” she says. “Take good care.”
At the end of the block, I turn to wave goodbye. But when I look back, she’s no longer there.
I RIDE FOR two blocks before realizing that I’m heading east instead of west, toward home. How did I get so turned around? I pull off to the side of the road and check my phone. It’s already after three. I’ve been meandering for four hours. My stomach growls, like it too just realized how late it is.
I take the nonscenic route home, pedaling fast while still being careful. LA drivers sometimes act as if bicyclists don’t exist. I lock away my bike and turn the corner to my apartment. Danica and Ben are on the stoop. They’re so busy staring into each other’s eyes, they don’t realize I’m only a few feet away.
There are some things you don’t need to see in your life. Your little sister making out is one of those somethings. I’m about to clear my throat and spare us both the trauma. But before I can, she leans in and kisses him.
My vision goes black, like the moment just before a movie begins.
And I see.
DANICA IN OUR school cafeteria. She’s sitting at her usual table, surrounded by her friends. The cafeteria is bustling in the usual ways. Some kids are talking, eating, laughing. Some kids— the always-alone kids—are not talking, not laughing. Danica’s ultrabright today in a fuchsia outfit that was probably once someone’s prom dress.
From the right, a tray slides over and bumps into hers. Ben is on the other side of the tray, smiling.
“I was thinking about asking you out,” he says. “Don’t you have a girlfriend?” Danica asks.
“Not anymore,” he says, and leans in. “If I did ask you out, what would you say?”
She leans in too. “You actually have to ask to find out.” “Want to go out with me?”
“Sure,” she says. “Why not?”
This moment right now, the two of them kissing on the stoop like no one can see them.
DANICA ON A beach at night surrounded by firepits, and the firepits themselves surrounded by her friends, who are partying or warming their hands and faces or just watching sparks fly up and away. She stumbles through the sand, away from all that. Her eyes are restless, searching. She walks past lifeguard station twenty-three and then twenty-four. At station twenty-seven, she finds Ben, but he’s not alone. He’s kissing his ex-girlfriend who, it turns out, isn’t an ex after all.
DANICA LYING IN bed in her room, alone. She scrolls through her social media, deleting photos and posts and comments. She changes her relationship status to Single. She unlikes and unfollows until there’s no evidence to be found anywhere that she and Ben were ever together.
THE VISION ENDS and the real world comes back into focus. I’m back where I was, standing on the sidewalk outside my apartment.
Danica and Ben are still on the stoop, but they’re no longer kissing. They’re both gaping at me.
Ben looks confused.
Danica looks outraged. “What the hell, Evie?” she demands, and stomps down from the stairs. “Why are you staring at us like a creeper?”
She’s right there in front of me, real enough to touch. Not a hallucination. But I can’t shake the image of her in the cafeteria and at the beach bonfire and alone in her room erasing her history with Ben.
“I—what?” I say, feeling slightly dizzy.
I must sway or something, because she comes closer. Her expression changes from annoyed to worried. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I just . . . I don’t know. That was the weirdest thing—”
“We should go inside,” she says.
“I forgot to eat lunch,” I say as she guides me into the apartment. “And then I rode really fast to get home.”
She helps me over to the couch. “Maybe I should call Mom,” she says.
That snaps me out of my daze. “No, don’t,” I say. “I don’t want her to get worried. I just got a little woozy for a second.”
She sits next to me and takes my hand. “Let me see your eyes,” she says, sounding a little like Mom when she’s in nurse mode.
I can’t remember the last time we were this close physically. Looking at her face is a lot like looking at mine. We have the same warm brown complexion, the same high round cheeks, and the same full pink lips. Somehow, though, those features come together more dramatically on her. She looks like a super‑ model. I look like the supermodel’s pretty‑but‑less‑attractive sister.
She turns my face from side to side. I have no idea what she’s looking for.
We’ve never been the best‑friends‑forever kind of sisters, but we used to be closer than we are now. She honed most of her makeup skills by practicing on my face. I used to supply her with new romances to read (she loves them almost as much as I did) and bands to listen to. Back when I was still dating Dwayne—my first and only boyfriend—we even went on a couple of double dates.
She squeezes my hand and looks like she’s about to say something, but Ben interrupts. “Yo, D, I gotta go. I have that thing.”
Is that thing cheating on my sister with your ex-girlfriend?
I want to ask. Which is a ridiculous thing to want to ask, because he hasn’t cheated on her. At least, I don’t know if he has. I pull my hand from Danica’s and stand up. “I’m really fine.”
She skips over to him and they slip out the door together. I lean back into the couch cushions and rub my temples, still freaked out. Was it a hallucination? Can you get those from being too hungry and too tired and too emotional? Or maybe it was one of those vivid dreams you get sometimes just as you’re waking up?
I’ve always had a good imagination, but that was more than good. It was cinematic.
My stomach reminds me that I’m hungry.
Danica comes into the kitchen just as I’m about to eat one of the brownies.
“If you want, some of us are going to the beach tonight for a bonfire,” she says.
I almost drop the brownie. “You’re going to the beach tonight?” The image of her stumbling through the sand looking for Ben and then finding him with someone else flashes through my mind. “Is Ben going with you?” I ask.
“Of course.” She narrows her eyes at me. “What’s the matter? Oh, let me guess, you don’t like him.”
“I didn’t say that—”
“But that’s what you mean.”
That’s not at all what I meant, but I don’t know how to explain what I did mean. How do I tell her I had a strange vision and I’m afraid she’s going to get her heart broken tonight? “Whatever,” she says. She spins away from me and takes off upstairs.
LATER THAT NIGHT, I’m lying on the couch with my laptop and communing with the course catalog for NYU (New York University, where I’m going to college in the fall) when Danica walks into the apartment. Her mascara is smudged, like she’s been crying.
I close my laptop and sit up. “What’s wrong?” I ask, even though I have an awful, creeping feeling that I already know.
“Nothing,” she says, and heads straight for the stairs. I follow her up to her room. “Can I come in?”
“I guess,” she says. It’s not exactly a welcome, but at least she didn’t tell me to go away.
I haven’t been in her room much since we moved to this apartment. It looks like her old one, just smaller. The walls are almost completely covered with vintage magazine covers and photos of her and her friends. At our house, her walls were purple, but since this is a rental we have to leave the walls white. The rest of the room is artfully messy. Bits of fabric and sketchbooks filled with her fashion designs are everywhere. Her crafting desk is cluttered with sketches and spools of thread and drawing supplies. The sewing machine is half‑covered by fabric. The only thing not covered with other things is her vanity. It’s one of those old‑school ones with a huge circular mirror surrounded by clear round bulbs.
“You don’t seem like nothing’s wrong,” I say.
She sits down at her vanity and starts wiping foundation from her cheeks. “I’m fine,” she says, voice bright. She tosses the wipe into the trash and gets out another one. “Ben and I broke up.”
“What happened?” I ask.
She shrugs. “I caught him kissing his ex.”
This is really happening.
“Where?” I ask, picturing Ben in the shadow of lifeguard tower twenty‑seven.
“At the beach. Behind one of the lifeguard stations,” she says, with an eye roll and a scoff.
All at once, I feel the way I did earlier today. Light‑headed and exhausted. Confused.
I sit on the edge of her bed.
“It’s really not a big deal, Evie,” she says.
“How can you say that?”
“Because it’s not. There are a lot of other guys out there.”
“But why even bother with guys at all?” I ask.
She stops wiping her face and turns to me. “Not everyone can be like you, Evie. I have actual human feelings.”
“What does that mean?”
She turns back to the mirror. “The only thing you ever feel is angry at Dad.”
I’ve wanted to tell her about Dad’s affair so many times in the past year. If she knew, she’d be just as angry as I am. But Mom asked me not to. Sometimes I think telling her would be the kind thing to do. Isn’t it always better to know the truth, to live without illusions?
I stand up and walk to the door.
Our eyes meet in the mirror. Her makeup is all gone now. Despite what she said about breaking up with Ben not being a big deal, she looks sad to me.
“I’m really sorry about Ben,” I tell her, and slip out the door.
The truth is, I’m probably more upset by their breakup than Danica is. I don’t understand what’s happening to me.
It’s one thing to hallucinate a vision of the future. It’s something entirely different for that vision to come true.
From the forthcoming novel INSTRUCTIONS FOR DANCING, copyright © 2021 by Nicola Yoon. Jacket illustration copyright © 2021 by Renike Jacket lettering © 2021 by Jyotirmayee Patra. Used with permission from Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.