When kindergarten teacher Spenser Harris returns home one night, he is shocked to see a badly beaten teenage boy huddled on his doorstep. Duon is waiting for Spenser’s neighbor, Tomás, who he knows from dance class. But Tomás is not home and Spenser needs to do something to help, so he brings Duon into his apartment and begins to take care of him. When Spenser realizes Duon has been beaten and kicked out of his house for being gay, he immediately volunteers to be his long-term caregiver. Spenser’s own past in foster care and shelters means he will do anything to help Duon avoid the same fate.
Tomás Jimenez would have loved to help Duon, but he has his own issues at home. His parents are undocumented immigrants and Tomás lives in constant fear that they will one day be found and deported. He lives with them, working three jobs to help them take care of his sister’s kids since she frequently leaves them while getting drunk and high. As much as he wants to help, Tomás worries if family services are hanging around, they might find out the truth about his parents. But he is still determined to be there for both Spenser and Duon.
Spenser and Tomás have shared an attraction for a while, but neither ever got up the nerve to make a move. Now that they are helping each other care for Duon, the men begin spending more time together and exploring the attraction. It seems like they are working their way toward the family and relationship both men have dreamed about. But even as it looks like the future could be bright between them, there are so many things threatening their happiness. Spenser’s job is in danger because his conservative school doesn’t like that he is gay; he runs risk of losing Duon for the same reason. Minnesota is voting to ban same sex marriages, something that could ruin their hopes for getting married and starting a family. And Tomás’ family still remains in constant danger of being deported.
The men have grown to love one another and have dreams of a future together. Now they must hope that outside forces don’t shatter everything they have built.
Enjoy the Dance is the second book in Heidi Cullinan’s Dancing series. The first book, Dance with Me, is among my all time favorites, so I was thrilled to see another installment in the series. This is an interesting story, in that it isn’t a historical, but not quite contemporary either. The story picks up soon after the first book ends, so this is the time before the Defense of Marriage Act was overturned or marriage equality was the law of the land. It gives some interesting perspective to see how much has changed since the first book, and to place the story at such a pivotal time in history. I’ll note that Laurie and Ed are prominent side characters here, so fans of Dance with Me will enjoy getting to see them again (and we first met Duon in that book), but I think you could probably grab this one without having read the first (but don’t listen to me — read it if you haven’t yet!).
This book has a really great, lushly romantic feel. I found myself very swept up in the love affair between these two men. They have been harboring attractions, but neither man has been bold enough to make a move. They are both kind, loving men and seeing them find happiness together is very rewarding. They take things slowly and carefully, but you can really feel the love between them and the longing both men have to find a relationship and a partner. Spenser, in particular, dreams of a family of his own after losing his in foster care and I was so happy watching him find a loving partner in Tomás and a child in Duon, plus an extended family in the Jimenez clan. Both of these men are just such good, solid people who are always putting others first. So to see them find happiness of their own and someone who truly loves them and who will give them support and protection is just so heartwarming.
Things run very smoothly on the relationship end, because what these guys are really dealing with are external forces that are complicating their lives. Between Spenser’s job, Tomás’ sister, impending court rulings, Tomas’ insane work schedule, and fears about losing Duon, they are facing so many factors beyond their control that both men run risk of becoming adrift. It is only the connection that they have with each other and the support they provide that helps the men get through it all. I think Cullinan does a really nice job here with balance, giving us a sense of what was going on in the world and how it impacts the men, and combining that with the sweet and romantic story of their relationship.
The only area I wish had been explored more was Duon. He makes this transition from living at home to living with Spenser, a total stranger, with virtually no problems. The biggest issue is he likes to hang out in his room a lot and tries to weasel out of going to school. He seems to be perfectly adjusted, or at least as adjusted as any other 15-year-old, and I found that so hard to imagine given how recently his whole life was disrupted. I wish we had a better sense of what his home life was like, what he thinks about his new situation, and how he is adapting. We know he suffered a terrible beating and his grandmother and family did not support him being gay. And we know Spenser offers safety and security over the alternatives of going into the foster care system. But it still seems like the ease with which he transitions, and his desire to stay with Spenser versus seeing his family would have been easier to understand with some more background on Duon. That said, it looks like there is another book coming in this series and I am crossing my fingers we get Duon’s story there.
I really loved Enjoy the Dance and think it is a great accompaniment to the first book. Spenser and Tomás’ story is heartwarming and romantic and I just adored them together. I loved watching them come together and then take on the world, and it is so rewarding to see them find their happy ending together.