Book Reviews

Academic Ambition by Leigh Jarrett at Steambath Press

Genre Gay / Bisexual / Trans* / Nonbinary / Contemporary / Athletes/Coaches / Students/Teachers/Professors / New Adult / Romance
Reviewed by Bob-O-Link on 08-September-2023

Book Blurb

Asher identifies as non-binary but prefers to use he/him pronouns. His relationship with his body is in constant conflict. It isn't until he meets Shaun, his new roommate, that he starts to accept himself.

Shaun's life is dominated by rugby. Until he rescues Asher one dark night. Then his world is turned upside down. When Asher becomes his new roommate, Shaun finds himself tumbling into a yearning he never could have imagined.

But can Asher find his way to him?


Book Review

Gay literature, even when coitus assuredly seems to be coming (Ha! Ha!), often proceeds apace lest the reader lose patience and take satisfaction into his own hand. (Sorry, but I just couldn’t resist.) ‘Academic Ambition’ is a tale of great personal conflicts, and tends to develop at its own speed. The author’s introduction advises that the novel posits a comparison of widely different characters: one is a self-accepting gay man, the other is an outward example of classic masculinity. Their inter-relationship tests the ability of self-evaluation and growth. Despite a fictive ideal of matching couples based on commonalities (i.e., “Boy, have I got someone for you!”“A perfect combo!”“This one’s just up your alley.”), a literary mismatch converting into a solid and lasting relationship always feels more satisfactory, a salute to destiny.


Here we deal with the extremity of Asher, a young man who considered a physical transition to female – which he thereafter abandoned. After sharing housing with three nice guys, he finds himself in desperate need for a new living situation. Enter sharing with three college sportsmen, mostly personified by crass presentations and personalities. Asher, however, is quiet and private, using solo time creating private recreational comics, and then switching at sixteen to Yaoi – a form of gay male or boys’ love manga. Using explicit visual aids, Asher’s work is erotic ne plus ultra: that is “Men in a relationship who were having sex with each other. Their cocks pumping, the precum flowing. Their holes on display.” Of course, this was but Asher’s desirous imagination, he being still a virgin at twenty-four! And, by the way, also a vegan. So – petit, almost a twink, sexually pure.


The “special” new housemate is Shaun, a star rugby player, built big. Shaun is almost chaste, minimizing a social life and dedicating himself to rugby and school, hoping to be a coach for youth sportsters.


Aside: just about here in the novel, the reader must adapt to modern, mystifying use with neutral nouns. I.e., “He kneeled beside them and placed his hand on their back.” Plural, neutral and often textually confusing. Nonetheless, ‘Academic Ambition’ delivers a classic romance in a current style – the story merely a hook for sentimental character presentation. Twists and turns are just to assist the coloration. Shaun ultimately recognizes his own bisexuality (and attraction to Asher) by a self-test inserted into the text - almost as an educational intermezzo. Another follows when Asher reads an original piece at a coffeehouse gathering.


In an unusual trope for gay romance, the main characters first become socially and emotionally committed, recognizing the importance of a solid connection: mind before body.


The novel is rife with ideas! Discovering bisexuality in a most manly person. Toxic masculinity seen as an unpleasant condition. Astute advice from an innocent, unapologetic, authentic Asher to a more worldly but cautious Shaun: “Don’t let anyone else tell you who you are.” And Shaun realizing what he wants from Asher, what he’s attracted to – the person inside Asher's skin!


Reader, prepare for something unusual. The author presents intimacy first fringed with an almost aversion to physicality. Sure, we are all aware of long-abiding love surviving to an old, almost sexless age, or past the body’s ability to perform. Here is a true love, but evidenced in unusual ways. Can the ability of on one partner to climax still build intimacy or does it encourage imbalance? Is reciprocity essential to emotional and physical satisfaction essential to a complete partnership, or will it lead to mere acquaintance?


So many gay novels proceed by presenting growing sexual familiarity in measured steps – much as from a menu – sating oneself from an appetizer to a grand flambeed dessert. Here the hungered lovers consume the entire meal in one session. ‘Academic Ambition’, with literary excellence, prods us to explore and enjoy the issue.




DISCLAIMER: Books reviewed on this site were usually provided at no cost by the publisher or author. This book has been provided by the author for the purpose of a review.


Additional Information

Format ebook and print
Length Novella, 160 pages
Heat Level
Publication Date 22-August-2023
Price $3.99 ebook, $18.95 paperback
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