Title ~ The Storm Before The Calm
Author ~ Cate Ashwood
Publisher ~ Dreamspinner Press
Published ~ 5th June 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
Charlie has one passion in life: dancing. It’s his salvation when it feels like the world is swallowing him whole. When his mom secretly secures him a spot in the summer intensive at the Free Rein Dance Company in New York, he is thrilled. He knows that once the summer ends, he'll have to return to Beacon to get a job and help support his family, but for those two months, he can spread his wings.
In New York he meets Max, a junior instructor who is everything Charlie wishes he could be. Bold and self-assured, Max radiates pride in who he is. As they spend time together, Max shows Charlie what life can be like past the walls of his closed-minded home town. But Charlie doesn’t know if he’s ready to show the world who he truly is when standing in the spotlight is the last thing he wants.
Brilliant, just brilliant. This lovely, beautiful book is special in its simplicity, its honesty, and how the lead character - the young, inexperienced, fledgling dancer, Charlie - grows before your very eyes. How he starts as a terrified, self-loathing teen about to graduate high school (but only if he survives his final gay-bashing) and move on to a life no less bleak than the one he's been living for the last four years.
Charlie is different. He's gay, though he has never once admitted it, even to himself. He's also a brilliant dancer with impeccable technique and stunning athleticism. In Beacon, South Dakota, that's two major strikes against him, and has turned him into the target of choice for the relentless bullies, losers whose reason for existence is to cause pain in other people, so they can somehow feel superior. And being both gay (even closeted) and a dancer? That's like having a target painted on his back.
Charlie survives his torture by cutting. The razor gives him some control over his life and his feelings, over both the pain and the endorphins that wash the pain away. And by dancing, which lets him fly, escaping his reality, soaring on the music and the very air.
He lives with his mother, a single parent, who works several jobs to make ends meet, and he tries to help out any way he can. His plan is to graduate high school and get a job, a dead-end job in a retail store or factory, anything he can to take some of the weight off his mother's shoulders. He's a good son, a great dancer, and a boy absolutely devoid of hope.
Everything changes when an envelope arrives from New York. A well-known dance company is offering Charlie a full scholarship for a Summer Intensive, an almost round-the-clock series of classes, dance and critiques designed to prepare young people for a professional dance career. Charlie can't believe it, but he knows he can't go. That is until his mother shows up with his plane tickets and starts packing his suitcase - he's going to go to New York because it is a brilliant opportunity for her talented son, a son she wants only the best for.
With great trepidation, Charlie faces a host of firsts on this new adventure. He's never flown before. In fact, he's never been out of South Dakota. He's never been to a big city, like New York, and he's never been in such a potentially competitive situation with so many talented, more-experienced dancers sharing his classes and studios.
He arrives at his Aunt Ginny's apartment, which will be his home-away-from-home, with both anticipation and fear. His very first day at the studio, and he will have to take the subway, for the first time, navigate the streets of lower Manhattan, for the first time, and meet his teachers, choreographers and fellow students, for the first time. For Charlie, this is an advanced case of sensory overload, but he manages it, seems to get everything right, meets so many talented people, especially one junior instructor, Max, a gorgeous young man who is a dancer in the company and part-time instructor over the Summer. Their eyes lock. Max is the most beautiful, confident, graceful and generous man Charlie has ever met, and his patience with him is extraordinary.
It's a patience that's demonstrated in so many ways - the two boys working together to choreograph a duet that they'll perform at the huge LGBT festival at the end of the Summer, Max exposing Charlie to all kinds of new experiences, from the ethnic foods available on almost every street in New York, to Nathan's hot dogs, to a day at Coney Island for Charlie's first visit to an amusement park.
But most important, Max is teaching Charlie how to be true to himself, and how to love. The growing passion between these two beautiful, talented, young dancers is glorious to behold. It's not just the passion they discover in each other, but the innocence that Charlie brings to every act, the sincerity of every kiss, the magical connection that grows between the two.
But hanging over both their heads is the end of the Summer, when Charlie needs to go back home to Beacon and help his mother out. It's the end of his dreams, the end of the love he shares with Max, the end of dancing - and he's just too damned talented to let that talent waste away in the boredom and bigotry of Beacon, South Dakota.
I certainly won't give away the ending, but Charlie does find a way. He finds a way back to Max, he finds a way for his mother to thrive, he finds a way to hope, love, and success, and it's a wondrous journey for the reader.
Cate Ashwood is a top-flight writer, and The Storm Before The Calm is a top-flight book. The angst the characters face feels very real - the responsibility of "being a grown up" and "being a good son", the loss of the first and maybe only love of his life, the potential loss of the art he's been perfecting his entire life, the art that stokes his passions and brings him both peace and a deep sense of accomplishment.
There are not a lot of tears until the ending, when you'll be weeping for joy, for seeing this innocent and special young man find his way to being an independent, passionate, creative adult with an unlimited future.
There's no great lyrical odes in The Storm Before The Calm, just masterful writing with some beautiful descriptions of the dance and elegant glimpses of Charlie's soul. The characters and setting are simple, because that's all they need to be, to tell a simple, beautiful and authentic story of a very different kind of coming-of-age. Brava, Ms. Ashwood, you did a brilliant job on this book, and I will savor and remember it for some time to come.
Connect with Cate Ashwood
Cate Ashwood wrote her very first story in a hot pink binder when she was in the second grade and found her passion for writing. Her first successful foray into romance writing came five years later when she wrote her best friend, who was experiencing a case of unrequited love, her own happily ever after.
Cate’s life has taken a number of different and adventurous roads. She now lives a stone’s throw from the ocean, just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia with her husband, son, and two cats. Her life is filled with family and friends, travel, and, of course, books.