Dance with Me by Alexis Daria. Swerve. 2017.
I loved the first book in this series, Take the Lead. I gave it five stars. It’s one of my favorite romances that I read in 2017. Dance With Me is the sequel, but it can stand alone. Though there are some elements that will be more satisfying if you have read book one (especially the plotline involving Donna).
Unfortunately, despite my excitement to read it, I didn’t enjoy this book nearly as much. It still brings some of the things I loved in Take the Lead: a Puerto Rican heroine portrayed with a great deal of cultural specificity, conflicts that felt real and gripping, some lovely dance-centered moments (I especially appreciated the choreography moments), blazing chemistry between the MCs, a heroine I adored. It also includes elements that I often enjoy: forced proximity, friends with benefits to lovers, a romance arc where the hero needs to prove he is worthy of the heroine’s trust.
I could see the glimmer of how great this romance could have been, because of those things, and I am sad it had other issues that prevented it from working for me.
My core problem with the story is that I don’t think that the hero is worthy of the heroine’s trust. He is careless with her, often says cruel things (which is attributed to nervous blurting). Most importantly: he is in a power position both as a judge on the show she works at and as the person who is giving her a place to stay when she has nowhere else to go, and he doesn’t respect her boundaries or her no, continually pushes her to have sex, and is very controlling for a large portion of the book, which is especially bad around her temporary disability. The carelessness and the cruel blurting could potentially be recuperated. The other stuff made me conclude that he was terrible for her and this was a destructive relationship for her. Nothing he did won me over and I honestly am not sure it could.
I can pinpoint the exact moment when I decided he was terrible for her. The sexual coercion at 28%. (Spoiler in white, highlight to read) She had set a boundary, saying they could not have sex while she was staying with him because she had nowhere else to go. He agreed, but then he keeps pushing their sexual chemistry. She says to him that she can’t ever say no to him. Then he initiates sexual contact. She goes along, but pulls away a couple times, saying they shouldn’t. He is insistent. She acquiesces, nodding her head. He asks “Because you can’t say no to me?” and she nods. Then he takes her to the bedroom and they have sex. The text, and the characters present this as consensual sex. It did not feel consensual to me as a reader, at all. It felt coerced.
He is in a power position both because he is a judge (which the book never acknowledges) and because she has no housing without him. He agreed to respect her boundary and then continually disrespects it. He knows that she cannot say no, and he continues. He never even asks if she is sure, never confirms consent. The only thing he asks is why she can’t say no (she says she doesn’t know). Even if he thinks she is consenting, she set a boundary, she said they shouldn’t, she said she couldn’t tell him no…how could he think this is okay?
Then, around 40%, the heroine gets temporarily injured. (Spoiler in white, highlight to read) The hero decides that under the guise of caring for her while she is injured, that he is now in charge of her body. He ignores her repeated no’s around being carried, around being made to share a bed with him. He does everything he can to make her helpless without him to carry her. She never seems to have access to her crutches, they are always mysteriously missing while he is around. There is one awful moment early on where not only does he refuse to give her the crutches, he won’t give her her glasses either. He decides that he knows best about what her body needs and that he is caring for her by controlling her movements, and the book presents this as romantic. There is even a moment later on where the heroine concludes that she has healed so well because of him forcing her to not push it. As a disabled reader, I was appalled at his behavior. This is basically the exact opposite of caring: removing disability aids and ignoring her no is not romantic or a sign of love. At best its ableist ignorance. Paired with a pattern of ignoring her boundaries and disrespecting her no, it read as abusive to me. The book, however, seems to present it as a minor flaw, and has him shift his behavior because he is called on it by people in his life…not even because he listens to her objections.
He does become less controlling as the story goes on, finally respects a boundary she has set, listens to her more. But for me, he just doesn’t work as a romantic hero. He was not recuperated for me, even when he does eventually step up and take emotional risks.
- Puerto Rican former sex worker heroine with a temporary mobility disability
- Immigrant hero
- Puerto Rican woman author
Content Warnings (in white, highlight to read)
Sexual coercion. Controlling behavior in an intimate partnership. Ableist abusive dynamic. (For more info on these, see above under the spoilers.) Emotionally abusive parent. Sexual harassment, coercion and stalking in the workplace. Former sex worker character who has shame around her sex work history. Immigration related trauma in the past. On the page sex.
- Source of the book: ARC from the publisher via Netgalley.
- I have had some contact with the author on Twitter
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Other Relevant Reviews and Posts
- Review of Take the Lead, book 1 in this series
- Review of Dance All Night, book 2.5 in this series
- Review of His Perfect Partner, another dance romance
- Review of Knitting a Broken Heart Back Together, another dance romance
- Review of Certain Requirements, another dance romance
- Review of Danced Close, another dance romance