With his last sub having left, Dom Tristen “Tenny” Fleetwood is single and ready to start looking for a new sub. While he and his friends relax at one of their regular BDSM clubs, Tenny’s hookup app notifies him that an acquaintance is near. When his friends point out that he has a secret admirer, Tenny decides the stars just might be aligning to bring him something—someone—good. In fact, that night, he meets David Ormerod. David is older and painfully shy, not just because he’s been left on his own for so long, but because of the ectrodactyly that has left him with disfigured hands and feet. But feeling shy and self-conscious about his body is something Tenny is deeply familiar with—he himself is now fully living as the man he is.
But Tenny seems to have caught more than just David’s attention. Not long after he and David begin exploring a friendship they both hope leads to more, Tenny starts being the focal point of some very unwanted attention. It starts with lewd photographs and escalates into something far worse. Tenny knows in his heart that David could never be so hurtful, but Tenny’s friends convince his mind that the timing of meeting David and the start of the stalking attacks is just too suspect. But breaking up with David doesn’t make the stalking end…instead, it escalates into a life-or-death situation and Tenny is not at all sure who he can count on.
The basic premise of The Things We Hide At Home was good. I liked the broad strokes of the book, such as the strong, confident, trans main character and the complicated love interest who also suffers from hoarding behavior. I also liked how Rowan mixes Tenny’s social, work, and private life on the page. These elements built a complete portrait of Tenny and, because he is the narrator, I had a strong sense of who he was. Unfortunately, that sense of character felt rather…self-centered to me.
Tenny’s narration sounded very “me” focused in general. When he first made David’s acquaintance outside the club, Tenny came across as unrelenting, firing question after question at David even though David seemed rather uncomfortable. Or at the cafe where Tenny is working as a barista and someone barrels into David, who is holding a hot beverage. Tenny narrates that David smiles to cheer him up, even though David’s the one that got accosted. But I think the most egregious case of Tenny’s selfishness is when he breaks up with David without listening to/allowing David to defend himself. This is such a huge problem for me because, at this point in the story, Tenny has recently been fired by his boss—a boss who didn’t listen to/allow Tenny to defend himself. I also thought it was problematic that the “limits” talk about what sort of Dom/sub activities each of them are willing to engage in not only happens immediately prior to them engaging in sexual activities, but Tenny seems entirely unconcerned when David (apparently 100% virgin and certainly engaging in BDSM for the first time ever) says he’ll accept anything Tenny offers. I wondered if Tenny took this very literally; the morning after contains a scene where it’s clear Tenny has taken photos of sleeping David and posted to his (Tenny’s) social media. On balance, I just found Tenny to be more on the immature/selfish side. I thought that aspect of the character didn’t mesh well with someone who also professes to want the responsibility of a Dom, even contemplating pursuing a career as a professional Dom.
Character flaws aside and the tendency for Rowan to over describe mundane things (e.g. a great phone is a “flat piece of technology”), the story picks up when the stalker finally makes their appearance. While I can’t say it was any big surprise about who the stalker turned out to be, the climactic scene where Tenny is literally fighting for his life was chock full of over-the-top antics. If you like wild drama and very unstable villains, there will be a lot to enjoy in this chunk of the book.
Overall, this was an average read. The plot devices and tropes were too predictable for me to really enjoy. This, coupled with a main character/Dom who seems ill-suited for the responsibilities of caring for a sub, was taxing to read. Nevertheless, I think this is an honest attempt at representation and whatever flaws there are in the balance between Tenny and David, it was clear to me they were supposed to be star-crossed lovers. For anyone interested in stories with trans characters or people with disabilities, you may enjoy this book.