Rating: 5 stars out of 5
When Spenser Harris spots a young man with a black trash bag hovering outside his apartment door, his first thought is panic, the second is that the boy must belong to the Spanish-speaking family across the hall. But then he learns the true story, and all the compassion of this kind-hearted kindergarden teacher comes to the forefront as he opens his arms and his heart wide to take in the homeless teen. They have more in common than the teen, Duon, suspects. Spenser was once a child of the foster system and didn’t find family until he had aged out of the system when Avenues for Homeless Youth placed him with a lesbian couple through the GLBT Host Home Program. Spenser is determined that Duon won’t have to go through what he did and immediately makes plans to become an eligible home.
Speaking of the neighbors across the hall, Duon was indeed looking for them, more specifically for Tobias, the adult son of the household, a man who instructs dance at the studio where Duon takes lessons in exchange for work. The studio is owned by Ed and Laurie (Dance With Me) and is the best thing in Duon’s life to-date. Tobias also works as a barista at Starbucks and as a nursing home janitor and sometimes even squeezes in an extra job when it looks doable. He’s the sole support of his undocumented immigrant parents who, in turn, are the sole support of his sister’s three kids. His sister, an addict and all around ne’er-do-well is generally MIA, and between avoiding INS and needing someone to watch over the kids, his parents can’t work so earning money to support everyone falls to Tobias.
This story is the love story of Spenser and Tobias but the theme is family—family of the heart as well as family of origin—for better or for worse. And it’s about the love of one person for another, with or without a blood relationship. Spenser lost his sisters when they were taken into the foster care system after his mother was arrested when Spenser was a young child. His mother is out of jail now, and he’s seen her once, but his sisters are lost to him. His heart and psyche bear the scars of abandonment from that incident and from the loss of all his foster homes. It seemed to him at the time that no matter what he did, he was never good enough. Wheras Tobias has grown up in a loving family but in a world where every misspoken word could lead the INS to their door. And every wrong deed done by his sister could bring the focus of DHS children’s services to their door and therefore INS as well. Fear is a very real emotion for Tobias, every single day.
But Duon seems to bridge a gap for both men, and Spenser finds family where he least expected it, as he’s virtually adopted by Tobias’s parents, and Tobias finds not only his own family in Spenser and Duon, but help where he least expected it. Together, they forge a new future as Tobias, Duon, and Laurie teach Spenser how to overcome his fear of failure and enjoy the dance.
I hope it’s obvious by now that I totally enjoyed this story, and I highly recommend it. It’s one of those stories that gets better with each page turn. In fact, I have never highlighted so many passages, so many quotes, so many things I thought were memorable and worth saving—not just to write the review, but to use in my life choices. A simple example is: “All lives cast shadows. Pretending otherwise is how we end up accidentally living in darkness.”
And this next passage really sent an arrow to my heart as I am aging, hopefully gracefully, while attempting to maintain my integrity and dignity: “…one day, no matter what we do, there will be darkness and end. But the time between the spark and the curtain’s close is ours to shape.” I have no words that would truly do justice to how much I respect Heidi Cullinan. After reading this book, both my eyes and my heart have been opened to the plight of both undocumented immigrants and teens in foster care, particularly “queer teens.” Please don’t skip over the Author’s Note at the end of the story. I’m trying to force down the tears as I write this, knowing there are young gay, lesbian, or transgender youth out there who are suffering at this very moment. I wish I was in a situation to do more right now, but I can donate something, and I will.
On a much lighter note, I really need to thank the author for introducing readers to the joys of using Tajin as a seasoning. It’s as good as, or maybe even better than, described in the story. It just goes to show, you never know what you will find when you open a book by Heidi Cullinan!
Cover Artist: Kanaxa is perfect for the story.
ebook, 273 pages
Expected publication: October 11th 2016 by Heidi Cullinan
Original TitleEnjoy the Dance
Series:Dancing – add to your Goodreads page below: