Admit One

AdmitOneTitle: Admit One
Author: Jenna Hilary Sinclair
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Novel (350 pages)
Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn

THE BLURB

When high school teacher Tom Smith meets Kevin Bannerman at a gay club, he violates his own rule: one-night stands only. But when the weekend is over, he walks away, reminding himself that he lives a deeply closeted life for painful, compelling reasons. He keeps his secrets, his heart, and the cause of his crippled arm to himself, but almost immediately he bitterly regrets leaving Kevin.

Months later, while Tom serves as reluctant assistant director for his school’s production of Rent, he fears that the show’s same-sex love angle will somehow out him. Protests against the play begin, one of the student actors is harassed, and during a parents’ meeting, Tom encounters Kevin again. This time Tom can’t fight the attraction between them, and he and Kevin begin a tentative relationship. Within Rent’s message of acceptance and support, and as local churches oppose the play, Tom struggles to find the strength to admit one man into his heart.

THE REVIEW

Admit One is the second story by Jenna Hilary Sinclair that I’ve read. I really, really liked this long, well-written, -plotted and -paced angsty tale of the damage of hate and the healing nature of love. Sympathetic, fleshed-out characters added to the overall enjoyment I had of the story.

The story opens with Tom, our first person narrator, introducing us to Kevin, the man he just picked up at a gay bar in Houston, as they make their way back to Tom’s hotel room. They exchange some blow and hand jobs and part, Tom making his way back through the many miles to the small, conservative west Texas town where he lives and teaches high school and is completely, utterly closeted. Tom never expects to see Kevin again — which is exactly how he likes it — but several months later, he runs into the other man again at the same bar. Reluctantly hooking up once more, they share not only another night, but part of the next day and night, something Tom never does as part of keeping himself from repeating the traumatic history and experience he had as a younger man, the one that crippled his left arm. Almost against his will, he finds himself relaxing and enjoying himself, but when Kevin asks for them to continue to see each other, Tom throws up his self-created walls, says “no,” and runs back home as fast as possible, though not without regret afterward. Now, many months later, Tom has been coerced into acting as assistant director of his school’s production of Rent, and is shocked to see Kevin walk in as the parent to one of the actors. Though every alarm goes off in Tom’s head and against his better judgment, they begin a tentative weekend-only relationship that is destined to become more, though not without major obstacles — the largest being Tom himself. With his past always in conflict with his desires, Tom feels that he must put his own safety and fears ahead of what he really wants — a normal life with a loving partner — but it’s possible that Kevin can help him move on and realize his long-denied dreams.

With recurring themes of regret, love, hate, ignorance, and acceptance, Admit One made me think. Living in the very liberal Bay Area, I often forget that there is a world outside that can be dangerous for those living alternative lifestyles (though, then I also need to remember that I live in the state that allowed the fucked-up Prop 8 to pass…). The small, conservative and religious western Texas town of Gunning could be Anytown, USA, where church steeples litter the sky and homophobia runs rampant. As Tom says, Matthew Shepard could have happened there.

I found Tom to be an incredibly tortured hero — one of the more damaged I’ve encountered in a while — with internal and external forces causing his pain. A thirty-eight-year-old high school teacher who is voluntarily socially amputated, living his life in a self-made bubble of work, hiding away in his tiny house, and wallowing in a sea of fear, self-loathing, regret and longing. Occasionally scratching his itch for man-on-man encounters by driving eight-plus hours to Houston for anonymous one-offs, he is the picture of unease, very closeted and paranoid about being outed, which ultimately drives pretty much all of his behavior. Added to that is his involvement in a play at school that he is positive will shine enough spotlight on his life that suspicions couldn’t help but be aroused about the middle-aged, single teacher. Now Kevin has turned his life upside down and Tom finds himself breaking self-imposed rules for the man who won’t leave him alone — not that Tom really wants to be left alone — and falling in love when he absolutely doesn’t want to. So deeply conflicted that he is in constant war with himself after meeting Kevin, Tom’s life is in turmoil; I felt his emotions as if they were my own and I found his actions (and reactions) painful to watch. We get a good look at Tom and his heartbreaking existence in so many excerpts, here are just a few:

I was sick of the way I had forced myself into living, how I never connected on any deep level with anybody. Living where I did, I couldn’t keep my job and my safety and change that, but that didn’t mean there weren’t moments when I regretted it all, everything. When I let myself think for a little while about living a normal life.

and

Since that first time I’d touched him, Kevin had been… not pushing me forward, but pulling me backward. He made me remember the young man I’d been: in love, full of hope, when I’d honestly believed there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t be able to do. I closed my eyes and remembered that man, honored him, mourned for him, and wished with everything I was that he still existed.

I really liked patient, thirty-seven-year-old banking executive Kevin, who gently — or not so gently! — pushed Tom into making changes in his life that, although having seemingly disastrous effects, in the long run allowed/forced Tom to grow and heal immensely. Kevin, who wanted Tom so much and saw, even early on, the potential there for a wonderful relationship that he was willing to put up with Tom’s rigid personality and strict rules, making concessions that he would probably not have to make being with someone else. I wondered at times why he bothered, but his reaction upon hearing Tom’s story made me cry, telling me almost everything I needed to know.

The group of secondary characters is fairly large, colorful and fairly well-developed, from Tom’s co-worker, the tall, gangly committed-to-Rent George, to the high school kids making up play’s cast and crew, to various town folk on both sides of the controversy. I was interested in the biker man who attended school board meeting who handed Tom a card reading Phoenix Pride, and I wondered if he might either be a character from another book that I didn’t read, or if the author was setting it up so that he would get his own story in the future?

I thought the reveal about what had happened to Tom that changed him and made him what he was today was perfectly timed, with enough hints that I suspected what it would be without knowing all of the horrific details.

My single niggle is that I really would have liked to have had more insight into Kevin’s thoughts during this whole saga, which I think is a limitation of the first-person POV. We do get a good idea of his character, but his life and emotions are impacted by Tom’s paranoia, actions and decisions, and I wondered what exactly was going through his head as he made concessions and had so many disappointments.

OVERALL

I highly recommend this wonderful, well-written book to anyone who loves a good, angsty, reluctant love story, with characters who heal and grow along the way.

11 comments

  • Hello, Aunt Lynn~

    Hi, it’s me, Jenna, the author of Admit One. Thank you so much for your kind words about the novel and for writing such a comprehensive review. I am so pleased you liked it.

    So glad that the cover received comment. The creation of it was a true labor of love among several people, but I really have to give a shout-out to Dreamspinner Press as a whole for it, because DSP is open to this kind of more interesting presentation for covers. I made an original suggestion that evolved into this, with their people working with me every step of the way.

    I love that you say Admit One made you think. I live in Texas. I’m not saying the whole state is like this because it absolutely isn’t. There are many fine, open-minded people here. But there is also reality in what I present: real life events I’ve witnessed made my blood boil and led to me writing this story. (Also, I’ve got to add: Robbie’s persecution? His being prayed over? That’s all real. My daughter was prayed over more than once when she defended a gay friend in school. Isn’t that horrific? I was afraid people wouldn’t think that was believable, but it was real life all the way.)

    I also really, really like Kevin, and as you point out the limitations of first person pov mean that our understanding of him is necessarily second hand. I was really hoping that his actions would reveal him. He makes mistakes, but he is my kind of guy.

    I don’t know if there is a story forthcoming about Robbie and Steven, or about the biker man, who I deliberately kept a little vague. But it’s good to know that they are at least interesting enough that readers are wondering about them.

    Thank you so much for this very encouraging review! I really appreciate it.
    Yours,
    Jenna

    Reply
  • Thanks for this review :). I’ve read most of Jenna’s K/S stories in the last months and loved them; it made obvious to me she was an excellent author. I’ve been wanting to try her original fiction for a while but when I looked at the blurbs, the storylines just didn’t seem to appeal to me. It was the same with this one. But with such a great review, you’re forcing me to reevaluate my position about this book. Maybe it’s the one I should give a try. 🙂 Thanks a lot!

    Reply
  • Hi Lynn

    I don’t normally love a lot of angst but this one seems to have a lot going for it which you highlighted wonderfully in the review. All of the surprises in the story which you hinted at without giving anything away make me want to read it even more. 😀

    **

    Great job, and I love the cover which is so evocative.

    Reply
    • “Great job, and I love the cover which is so evocative.”

      I agree, also it’s so refreshing to see that not all publishers think m/m automatically equals anonymous nipples and/or torsos.

      I really enjoyed reading the book. Wonderful 3dimensional characters. I also loved the dedication – excerpt:

      “I dedicate Admit One to my husband Ralph. He’s not only loved me and encouraged me in my writing for years, but he listened to me read this novel to him (yes, the whole thing!) and provided invaluable editorial commentary. I will always remember him settling into our big green chair and saying, “What did you write today?””

      And for readers (like myself) to whom this matters: the editing is really excellent, too.

      Reply
  • Thanks for stopping by and commenting Cosmonaut. I felt exactly like you about the reveal: I suspected some and others blew me away.
     

    I’m hoping the Biker Guy means that maybe Robbie will get his own story.

    That is quite possible. One of the things I kept thinking is that I would love to get the story of Robbie and Steven, if there is one (and I suspect there is) as I’m a sucker for high school stories. Maybe there is hope, at least for what happens from the end of the play.

    Reply
  • Great review. I agree with all that you said. I loved this story.


    It was really well written and Kevin is wonderful to Tom. The author does give hints about Tom’s past, but the extent of what happened was unexpected. Parts of it I was able to guess at, others floored me.


    I’m hoping the Biker Guy means that maybe Robbie will get his own story.

    Reply

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