Review: Enjoy the Dance (Dancing #2) by Heidi Cullinan
Kindergarten teacher Spenser Harris has carved a quiet, stable future out of his tumultuous past, but his world turns upside down the night a homeless teen appears on his doorstep—a boy whose story mirrors the one Spenser has worked so hard to overcome. The decision to shelter Duon is easy. What’s tricky is juggling the network of caregivers in Duon’s life, especially Tomás Jimenez.
Tomás wouldn’t have hesitated to take Duon in, but his plate is already full working three jobs to support his family. Though Spenser’s carefully constructed walls are clearly designed to keep the world at bay, Tomás pushes past Spenser’s defenses, determined to ensure the man is worthy of his charge. As the two of them grow closer, Tomás dares to dream of a life beyond his responsibilities, and Spenser begins to believe he might finally find a home of his own after all.
But Spenser and Tomás’s world is poised to crash around their ears. Duon’s grandmother isn’t sure she wants him to be raised by a gay man and challenges Spenser’s custody. Tomás’s undocumented parents could be deported at any time, and all the while the state of Minnesota votes on a constitutional amendment against marriage equality and the US Supreme Court debates whether or not Spenser and Tomás get a happily ever after. All they can do is hold tight to their love, hope for a better future…and remind each other to enjoy the dance.
It pains me to do this but... this didn't work for me for multiple reasons. I've gushed repeatedly over HC's writes mostly because I become immersed in her stories but more often than not I found myself disconnected from this one; just reading words on a page.
However, I want to make it clear that my major gripe is specific to me and should be taken with a grain of salt.
I work with the indigent population. I hear their horrifying stories every day. I know all about how poor, black, Latino, queer, mentally ill and other marginalized people of our society are scuttled to the back burner by the system and how much this negatively affects them on a daily basis. So the very last thing I need is to be schooled on how faulty the system is.
Sometimes the stories I hear hollow me out which is why I read mostly romance. I need the escape. Sure, I read and enjoy the dark stuff sometimes, but I know I with 99% certainty that I can look forward to karma happening to the "bad guy" and probably some form of redemption. I've even been known to read the heavier stuff from time to time but they usually come with a rewarding payoff. But here I felt like I got pummeled with how life is a bag of dicks for 95% of the book and then a tacked on artificial HEA for everyone. A lot hard to believe given my day job not to mention disingenous, but I guess it fulfilled the "romance" quota.
My second problem is there is so much sociopolitical commentary - class differences, immigration, gay rights, the religious right, marriage equality, health care coverage, the foster care system, mental illness, navigating workplace politics when you're queer, racism and white privilege which left very little room for romance. I don't mind sociopolitical subtext but this was way too busy. The romance was relegated to a secondary or maybe even a tertiary storyline and that's not what I signed up for. I stay informed enough through news and other media. I don't need or want to be preached to in my pleasure reading.
I'm not saying that parts of this story aren't moving. I'm not made of stone, but a lot of it felt forced. The emotionality came off as overdramatic and almost manipulative with the sole purpose of squeezing tears out of me rather than letting that happen naturally. I'm going to conservatively estimate that for 30% of this book someone is crying or sobbing over something. That makes for a heavy read in my opinion and turned something I had eagerly anticipated into a chore.
The relationship between Tomás and Spenser is rushed and is mostly telling rather than showing. They are simply not given adequate page time together for me to believe in their love which is a shame because they both seem like solid guys who deserve to find their "one". What I LOVED most about Dance With Me was the dancing and how that built the tension between Laurie and Ed. I watched them fall in love on the page through ballroom dancing. There's hardly any dancing here and what there is isn't between the protagonists.
The message of this book is commendable and I'm glad it's resonating with people. I wholeheartedly agree that several things need to change in our society. Like I said, my opinion is my own, so I would encourage people interested in reading this novel to read other reviews.
The only reason I'm not 1 hearting this is (a) I love the cover, (b) the sex was still pretty hot and (c) Laurie. I love him maybe even more than I did in his book. It's clear how much he's thriving and I have to believe Ed is a huge part of that.
Enjoy the Dance can be read as a standalone, though I would not recommend skipping Dance With Me. Ever.
I would recommend this to people outside of the MM romance genre.
An ARC was provided in exchange for an honest review.
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