If there's one thing we know about young adult fiction, it's that the genre is packed full of abandoned kids—Oliver Twist, Mary Lennox, and Alaska Young should be rolling out the welcome mat as Miracle joins their legion of Kids Who Got a Bad Deal. Because while Miracle may have a legal guardian of some kind for the entirety of Dancing on the Edge, the adults in her life haven't exactly done an awesome job of raising her. Fortunately, struggling through life on her own only adds a richer layer to her transformation as a character.
Being in The Cedars at age thirteen is the first experience Miracle ever has with structure, and as much as kids may say they hate it, they really thrive when there are some clear boundaries.
Miracle was abandoned the moment her family agreed not to tell her the truth about her mother's death.
No family is without its own special brand of dysfunction, but in Dancing on the Edge, the McCloys are a strange group of characters with serious denial problems. They rewrite their family history, perpetually lie, move back in with divorced spouses, stay in bad relationships, and struggle to communicate on any level. As a result, Miracle's life is in a near-constant state of upheaval.
That said, while the bulk of her family life isn't exactly positive, Miracle's interactions with Granddaddy Opal provide rare stable ground, while Aunt Casey eventually learns to overcome the family's issues and put the past in its proper place. In other words, even with this chaotic lot, family's a mixed bag.
The first people who treat Miracle with the respect we expect to see shown by family aren't family members at all—they're Juleen and Dr. DeAngelis.
Before she can help the rest of her family, Aunt Casey has to come to terms with her role in Sissy's death and what that means for Miracle.
In Dancing on the Edge, Miracle's entire life is based on a lie. Rather than acknowledge the truth of Sissy's tragic death, her family instead raises her to believe that her birth really was a grand and glorious miracle. The thing about lies, though, is that they only cover stuff up, not eliminate it completely. As a result, a huge part of Miracle's journey is not only learning the truth about the accident, but also accepting what really happened and rejecting the damaging stories she's been told.
Of course, this also means the family has to get over their half-truths and invented stories, something that—for Gigi in particular—is easier said than done.
Granddaddy Opal may claim to be different from Gigi, but he buys into the McCloy family's culture of lies as well.
Miracle's love spell lie is a way of seeking attention from others that she isn't receiving from her family.
It's pretty normal for teens to ask a lot of questions about who they are, where they are going, and where they belong. What's definitely not normal, though, is for them to believe that they don't even exist. Nonetheless, this is where we find Miracle for much of her journey in Dancing on the Edge—terrified that due to the circumstances of her birth and how people react to her, she's actually nobody.
While it may take some terrifying and disturbing circumstances to teach her the truth, Miracle is eventually able to come to terms with her past and allow her individual personality, not the events of her birth, to define her. Yay—way to do you, girl.
In trying to self-destruct by setting herself on fire, Miracle realizes for the first time that she is real.
It is impossible for Miracle to begin figuring out who she is until everyone in her life stops lying to her—any sense of identity she forms before this is based on lies.
If there's one thing the McCloy family totally rocks at in Dancing on the Edge, it's rewriting history. Think about it: They basically reinvent the entire story of their past so that they don't have to see Miracle as the product of a huge tragedy. They claim they're doing this for her, but they're so filled with raw, unprocessed grief and anger that they're really doing it mostly for themselves, reshaping Miracle's past so they don't have to look at their own mistakes.
Memory may be the enemy for Miracle, but with help and support, she's able to reclaim her own past and begin to shape her future. It's not easy, but it definitely seems to be worth it.
The past may be messy, but Miracle has no future for herself until she actually understands where she comes from.
Granddaddy Opal shows kindness toward Miracle in an effort to keep Gigi from repeating the past.
You better believe religion is going to play a major role in a story where a teenage girl is basically enslaved to her grandma's black magic. We Shmoopers aren't here to criticize anyone's specific religious views, but we do know this: Religion can do a lot of damage when it's used to control others. And in Dancing on the Edge, this is exactly what Gigi strives to accomplish through the occult—if people believe in her powers, she runs the show. Miracle in particular ends up super confused, and sorting through Gigi's beliefs and bad information is key to coming into her own.
Gigi uses religion to keep the rest of the family in line with her story about Miracle's birth.
Gigi's religious rituals and beliefs keep Miracle from investigating the truth about the world around her.
Dancing on the Edge might be a bleak story, but take comfort in the fact that it's ultimately a story about change. While accompanying Miracle on her journey is often disturbing, seeing her transform from a shell of a girl into a confident young woman who is freed from the lies of her past makes us more than a little proud of her. She might go through some tough times to get there, but Miracle's story shows us that it's possible for even the most damaged individuals to rise out of the ashes of their suffering and become something new. In other words, this book is hopeful… you just have to be patient.
While Miracle's incident with the candle bottles is painful, it's also essential for getting her to recognize her problems and giving her a desire to change.
All of the bad characters—the characters who work against the happiness and wellbeing of others—fail to change.
In Dancing on the Edge, dance isn't just a casual activity or a hobby for Miracle, it's what really brings meaning to her life. This meaning, though, changes throughout the book. At first, Miracle seems dedicated to dance because having a special talent might somehow bring Dane back, but gradually, it becomes a way for her to assert her identity and recover from her past. We see the healing qualities of art in general, too, including music helping people through hard times and the emotional resonance of poetry. In a dark story, then, art is a constant bright spot.
The arts play an essential role in helping Miracle form the identity she didn't believe she had.
As much as the arts help Miracle find herself, they also help her form meaningful connections to other people—connections that aren't based on fear.
Denial: It ain't just a river in Egypt. It's a skill for avoiding the painful realities of life, and in Dancing on the Edge, the McCloy family is dangerously good at. These people exercise denial to the point where it borders on delusion—rather than look at what's real and plausible, they instead build alternate realities to keep from dealing with guilt and grief and loss. The problem with having different versions of reality, though, is that it prevents you from dealing directly with life, and this causes serious issues for Miracle and Gigi.
Gigi teaches Miracle to create fantasy scenarios as a way to hide from painful emotions and truths.
Miracle sets herself on fire partially because she can't handle the full weight of the truth Juleen shares with her—as her understanding of her life metaphorically goes up in flames, Miracle literally does the same.
Before you start expecting all kinds of mushy, romantic stuff from this theme, we should take a minute to say that Dancing on the Edge isn't about that kind of love. Instead, it focuses on the ways humans show compassion toward each other, as well as how supportive relationships can heal people who have been through a lot of pain. For Miracle, this means that her relationships with Granddaddy Opal and Aunt Casey (once she gets with the program, at least), and also Dr. DeAngelis and the staff at The Cedars, begin to rebuild her sense of self and security. Go team.
Miracle has to love herself before she can love others, and this means she has to figure out who the heck she is before any real healing can begin.
Gigi loves herself first and foremost, which means she can't help but hurt others.