Tyrone Johnson has just graduated college and is looking to join a professional dance troupe in D.C. when two men from his past turn up quite out of the blue. Arnaud is a French choreographer who had been a sexy diversion in the summer camp where Ty worked after high school graduation. Ty thought they had something special until Arnaud went back to France with no warning or communication. Nat was Ty’s next-door neighbor growing up and he was an honorary member of the Johnson family, since his homophobic military father was not around much. Ty loved Nat, and was sorely disappointed when Nat ghosted him in high school, right as he was coming out. Ty watched Nat hang with the jocks and the beautiful, bigoted girls and tried not to visibly mourn the loss of his closest friend, and his first real love.
Now, Nat is out as bisexual, disowned by his family, but living his truth and hoping to earn Tyrone’s friendship—or more—back. Nat works with the Rainbow House, a homeless shelter for queer youth that took Nat in when he was destitute. Nat’s determined to build a network of LGBTQ support at Virginia colleges with a special focus on Black queer folk. Through mutual friends, Nat’s enlisted Ty and his fellow queer grads to help fundraise to create an LGBTQ dorm at their alma mater. Nat and Ty are both Black, but have had very different coming out experiences. Ty’s family are nothing but love, and they are more than happy to welcome Nat back to the fold. Ty isn’t so willing to forgive his grievances with Nat, but Nat is really working hard to show that he’s not going to run this time.
Meanwhile, Arnaud is a guest choreographer with the very dance troupe where Ty manages to get a spot. He’s as smooth talking as ever, promising Ty prominent lead positions in his troupe here, and in Europe, if Ty will join him in France when the summer ends. Arnaud is sexy and alluring and he is non-stop trying to get into Ty’s dance belt. As Nat becomes more and more invested in fundraising and setting up the LGBTQ services on campus, Ty feels a pull to make something more of himself—maybe take up Arnaud on his offer of a position in his nascent dance company. Doing so would mean a big and long-term separation from Nat, with whom he’s only just settling into a groove. But, would Nat even have time to spend with Ty if he remained in the States?
The Dancer’s Dilemma is the third book in the Campus Connections series, but fine to read as a standalone. The MCs of previous stories are secondary characters here. This is an interesting and twisty road to love for Ty, who’s heart has been through the wringer with both Nat and Arnaud. He so desperately wants a man to cherish him, want to spend time with him, and value him as a person. Ty struggles with his own self-image, thinking that he’s letting down his folks, and queer peeps in general, if he isn’t out there organizing communities and spearheading committees like Nat does. Ty’s nearly committed to moving to Europe just because it’s a step up in his career, not that he has any true interest to move countries. He’s letting his insecurity blow him around instead of recognizing the role he has to play in his own life, and the lives of his beloved friends and family. It’s only when a dear friend lays out some hard truth that Ty realizes his mistakes are only getting bigger and worse.
I liked both Ty and Nat, and mostly enjoyed their relationship dynamic. They have so much love, but Nat’s workaholic tendencies create distance and tension, which feeds Ty’s insecurities. It’s a sweet and a little steamy story, with Ty finally claiming the happiness he’s longed for, and making the decision that is right for him both personally and professionally. Ty is an affable and audacious man, and he’s thrilled to be loved out loud, like his besties who all have serious boyfriends. Ty tells the story, so we see first-hand his hurt and struggle regarding whether to respond to either man’s overtures or just stay single and hope someone even better comes along. I loved Ty and his joy and fun and his deep love for his family and friends. I think readers who enjoy stories about dance, second chances, and people of color will really enjoy this one. The happily ever after is guaranteed.