Author: Heidi Cullinan
Length: 224 Pages (Kindle)
Category: Contemporary Romance
At a Glance: I want you all to go and read Enjoy the Dance and experience all of the emotion for yourselves. The last chapter and a half had me with tears in my eyes almost constantly, and the ending is, of course, gorgeous.
Reviewed By: Jules
Blurb: Dance with your heart, and love will follow.
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 forever poised to crash down 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.
Review: This was a darn near perfect read for me. With her latest book, Enjoy the Dance, Heidi Cullinan has given us an emotional tour de force. With characters you will immediately fall in love with—as well as many others who you already know—and a setting that is primed to evoke all of your feels, Tomás and Spenser’s story is an absolute win.
The climate is fall of 2012. Minnesota is trying to pass an amendment banning same-sex marriage; it’s a stressful election year; and, the country is waiting for a decision from the Supreme Court on a case that would decide if DOMA will be overturned. As if that’s not enough to be dealing with, Spenser and Tomás are also dealing with immigration laws and the ins and outs of the foster care system. There is a lot going on in this book, but it never feels cumbersome, or like the author was trying to tackle too much. It definitely showed that Cullinan felt like this was a very important book to write, an important story to tell. And in my opinion, she nailed it.
When Spenser comes home one evening to a beat-up teenage boy on his doorstep, it stirs up some unpleasant memories about his past. And, when the neighbor across the hall—who the boy was looking for in the first place—gets involved, things get even more complicated. It’s definitely not all sunshine and rainbows in the beginning for Tomás (said neighbor) and Spenser. They get off to a rocky start when Spenser, who is a kindergarten teacher, explains that he is a mandatory reporter and will have to call DHS. It’s not just any boy, though. It’s Duon, who Tomás knows from the dance studio where he teaches, and Tomás is NOT happy about child services being called in—for a number of reasons.
I adored both Spenser and Tomás. Spenser stole my heart with his mellow sweetness, his love for teaching and kids, and his obvious caretaker nature. It killed me when he finally shared his past and everything he went through in his childhood, but it made complete sense that he wanted to take in Duon, and do whatever it took to keep him out of shelters or other foster homes.
Tomás was my favorite, though. His incredible love for his family, and his selflessness in all the sacrifices he made for them, were both awe-inspiring and heartbreaking. It was this love and his stubborn loyalty to his sister that had him working three jobs so that he could take care of his parents as well as his nieces and nephew. The stress of being overworked as well as his constant fear of his parents being deported are huge weights on his shoulders. Tomás really doesn’t have time for anything outside of his jobs, aside from eating and sleeping, but he still manages to make Duon one of his priorities.
Let me just say really quickly how AMAZING Tomás’s mom is. This woman stole every scene she was in with moments like this:
“Let me care in her place, my sweet boy. Let me feed you and wash your clothes and push the anger out of your heart, so you have room for love to come in. Love of the nice man across the hall who blushes when he sees you.”
So, yeah, we basically have Mrs. Jiminez to thank for Tomás and Spenser getting together, which is completely befitting of her awesomeness. His parents were worthy of every bit of effort everyone in the story put into keeping them in the country. I loved them so much.
Since we’re talking about the Jiminez family, I’ll also quickly mention the only thing in the book that maybe didn’t sit quite right, or feel as realistic as everything else did for the most part, and that was redeeming the sister. Tomás’s sister, Alisa, was horrible throughout the entire book. This is a selfish mother who totally took advantage of her parents’ generosity and all of her brother’s sacrifices, and as far as I could tell never said thank you, and who also said some pretty unforgiveable things to Tomás—at least things I wouldn’t forgive so easily—but then, all of a sudden at the end, she’s all, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry’, and going to rehab. Maybe I’m just feeling protective of Tomás and Spenser, and don’t feel like she should have been that easily redeemed…but, it did seem like it was a little too tidily wrapped up.
Ok—that’s out of the way. Now I can get back to all of the other fantastic things about the book!
Laurie and Ed—our beloved couple from Cullinan’s Dance With Me—have fairly sizable roles here. They are as amazing as ever, and I loved seeing so much of them. One of my favorite scenes was Laurie’s dance presentation in Spenser’s kindergarten class. So memorable and fantastic.
Duon, who we also first met in Dance With Me, is a wonderful character. He shares a passionate love of dance with both Tomás and Laurie, and it’s endearing how quickly he falls for Spenser, and how supportive he is of his relationship with Tomás. He so badly needs a stable family and home life, and recognizes that they can be that for him. Also, this is one fifteen-year-old who tells it like it is…
“Whatever, man. I’m sick of this shit. We gotta worry about nonsense every time we turn around. My social worker. Your sister. Spenser’s job. The stupid government and their rules about who can get married. It’s horseshit. You love Spenser. He loves you. We make a good team…It’s fucked up there’s all this shit in the way.”
I’m suuuch a believer in chosen family, as I’ve said before in reviews, and that theme was huge in this book. I loved this quote—“The family we make is as valid as the family we’re born to. Sometimes it’s a thousand times better.” Spenser’s foster mother, Clara, says this to him, and it’s a lesson that he’s trying to learn and trust in throughout the book.
There are so many other things I loved that I could share about this one, but I’m going to stop here. I want you all to go and read it and experience all of the emotion for yourselves. The last chapter and a half had me with tears in my eyes almost constantly, and the ending is, of course, gorgeous. I have so much love and respect for this story. Kudos to Heidi Cullinan for another amazing book.
You can buy Enjoy the Dance here: