Study Guide

Dancing on the Edge

By Han Nolan

Dancing on the Edge Introduction

It's a well-known fact that secrets totally wreck families. Don't believe us? Just ask Miracle McCloy what she thinks—she'll definitely agree with us. This girl knows the devastating effects of shady family pacts all too well, and boy does she have a story to tell. It includes suicide, séances, and so much more. Oh, and it's called Dancing on the Edge.

Han Nolan's 1997 novel won the National Book Award for young adult fiction, which is kind of a big deal. What's really amazing, though, is Miracle's journey from a life built on lies and manipulation (primarily thanks to her grandma, Gigi, who's raising her) into one founded on a commitment to truth and discovering herself. But while things are definitely pretty bleak, seeing Miracle escape from the emotional prison she's stuck in is extremely satisfying for readers. Hence the whole National Book Award bit.

While Dancing on the Edge is definitely about overcoming obstacles, it's also about the power of the arts to give meaning to life. As a dancer, Miracle's art form gives her purpose—it's more than just an outlet for self-expression; it's a way to prove to herself that both she and the world around her are real, and later to connect to her mother and her legacy. Deep stuff, right? But what did you expect? Han didn't win a fancy prize for nothing.

What is Dancing on the Edge About and Why Should I Care?

Miracle deals with a lot of serious issues that are hopefully pretty foreign to you. But one thing's for sure: You probably know what it's like to be unsure of your identity and to search for something that fits. You may have taken up a hobby or activity like Miracle does with dance, idolized an older sibling or family member, or tried to dress like a favorite celebrity (for better or for worse). No matter what you did or where you looked, though, the process of trying to figure out who the heck you are is pretty much a universal human experience—there's no growing up without it.

So regardless of whether you've experienced what Miracle has, her struggle to figure out who she is and navigate her desire to belong and be accepted by others is something you're most likely pretty familiar with. So if you come from the school of hard knocks, you'll totally find a comrade in Miracle, but even if it's been smooth sailing from day one for you, when it comes to balancing being true to herself with social acceptance, well, we've never met a teen who can't relate. It's the ultimate feat, and one everybody grapples with.

Dancing on the Edge Resources

WEBSITES

Han Nolan's Website
Read synopses of Nolan's other books, learn some fun facts about where she gets her ideas, and look at embarrassing photos from her childhood.

You Go, Han
Read Nolan's speech after winning the 1997 National Book Award for young adult literature.

ARTICLES AND INTERVIEWS

Do You Believe In Miracle(s)?
Check out this review of Dancing on the Edge.

VIDEO

Give This Kid a Gold Star
Watch a haunting student-made video trailer for Dancing on the Edge.

How Do You Picture Miracle?
View a student's video summary project with imagined pictures of what the characters might have looked like. Do they match how you picture everyone?

AUDIO

Bob Dylan, "Just Like a Woman"
Listen to one of Dane's favorite songs that serves as Miracle's backup music when she's dancing.

IMAGES

Nolan Dancing on the Edge
An actual photograph of Nolan in one of her college dance classes.

Nolan Catches Some Rays
One of Han Nolan's professional author photographs, perhaps taken in her native state of Alabama.

Dancing on the Edge Book Cover
The book cover for Dancing on the Edge includes one artist's interpretation of what Miracle looks like. Note Dane's bathrobe and the purple leotard.