Book Review: Dancing on the Edge by Han Nolan

This semester I’m taking a class on adolescent literature. I didn’t really need the class, but a professor I really admire is teaching the course, and I wanted to take one more of her classes before I left undergraduate studies for good. We’ve read a few books already such as Harry Potter, Ender’s Game, Fruits Basket, and Redwall. I’ve gotten a lot out of this class so far by looking further into these books, especially by reading books I’ve never read before. Right now, we’re finishing up Dancing on the Edge by Han Nolan.

Now, remember this book is for an adolescent audience. It’s written for them, but the content is fairly intriguing, even for an adult. It’s about a young girl who grows up living with her grandmother and her father, but feels like a nobody. Her name is Miracle because she was miraculously born after her mother had been pronounced dead. Her whole back story is incredibly sad, and reading her narrative as she grows up makes your heart ache for her. I finished this book recently and it struck me how much I really connect with Miracle’s feelings.

I can’t begin to claim I know how it feels growing up in an environment that is extremely unstable as hers was. However, I really connected with her concept of feeling like a nobody and needing to feel something real. I go through moments where I truly do believe I’m a nobody. In fact, if you had asked me a year ago about presenting a paper at the English Department Colloquium I would have laughed in your face because who am I really? I’m not someone important. I’m not someone a person would think of for doing something like this. Why would anyone take notice in me? Heck, I still feel that way. It’s hard to feel like you matter to someone somewhere. It’s hard to feel like you really are seen in the world. Sometimes, you can lose yourself in these thoughts, and you forget that you are a real person…that you are seen.

For me, it’s hard to fight these issues. I grew up in a tough environment. To this day I’m not truly sure my mother had been proud of me. She only told me once to my memory that she was proud… and that was in a Facebook message and a graduation card when I graduated high school and was leaving for college. No one seemed to care I was a straight A student. The only way I got any kind of attention was during two awkward years through 4th and 5th grade that I acted out. Then come 6th grade, I was invisible again. I felt invisible through high school, especially when I moved to South Carolina and Maryland. By the time I was a junior in high school in Maryland, I didn’t have any friends except one person who I met on the bus. I kind of just stayed in the background. When I graduated, I didn’t feel like it was my graduation too. I felt like I was just taking a back seat to the kids who grew up in the area, and who had a background together. I didn’t fit in. And through my earlier years in the college, it got worse. I didn’t have any friends. I stayed invisible in my dorm room, or in one corner of the classroom. It’s tough.

Reading this book astounded me. Miracle talks about how Emily Dickinson’s poetry spoke to her, but Miracle spoke to me. How do you deal with a family that is unstable? How do you process your feelings of love? How do you feel about being invisible to the world? How do you feel when you’re numb? It’s all topics Miracle faces. At 14, she’s finally starting to put the pieces of the puzzle together. I’m 25 and I’m still trying to work through these topics.

It’s books like this one that is important for adolescents to read. I grew up without being introduced to books like this. Granted, this book came out in the late 1990s. However, I never found it. Kids have a lot going through their heads, especially in adolescent, where they’re kind of ignored…or they’re feeling things they can’t understand. Or they simply can’t process something. How do you process losing a parent? How do you process a divorce? How do you process bullying? How do you process moving to a new place? Very rarely do adults talk to kids about this. When I moved from Missouri to South Carolina to Maryland, I wasn’t given a choice. I was only told this is what we had to do. It dictated my future without my permission. Granted, I wouldn’t have met everyone in my life now that I value in my life. But no one spoke to me about it. When my mother divorced her first husband, it was just done. No one talked to me or my brother about how we felt. What are kids supposed to do? Bottling up, as we see in Miracle, only causes problems. At least reading this book would help kids stop, think, and try to act on how to handle their own issues.

I’m forever amazed about the topics adolescent books bring up. I have to admit I cried beginning this book when hearing the story of Miracle’s mom dying. My mom passed away only 7 years ago, and anything mom-related only makes me cry. But reading further into the story and learning how tough Miracle’s life was only made me ache for her tough childhood, to praise how strong someone could be in a situation like that, and to promise myself I would try hard as a parent (one day in the very, very far future) to make sure my child didn’t have to face issues like that.

Even if you’re an adult pick this book up. Recommend it to your children. Yeah, there’s topics of suicide, “supernatural” elements, and psychology in it, but these are topics kids are going to be exposed to anyways. Maybe a kid will read this and connect with it. Maybe it’ll help them understand themselves. Give it a try.


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