Love Comes to Town by Tom Lennon
Publication Date: March 1, 2013
Publisher: Albert Whitman Teen
Audience: Young adult
Keywords: Dublin, senior year, gay teenager
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley (Thanks!)
Summary: Neil is about to turn 18 and graduate from high school in 1990s Dublin. He’s friends with people he’s known since he was a kid, he’s a celebrated rubgy player, and his niece and nephew adore him. But for many years now, he’s been harboring the secret that he is gay. As much as he has tried to ignore it, the truth continues to plague him and he wonders if he can trust those closest to him with his deepest secret.
With a title like this When Love Comes to Town, I was really hoping for a love story. Instead, I received a deep analysis in the very troubled psyche of Neil, a young man who seemed to totally accept himself one minute and be ready to throw in the towel the next.
Who could blame him? He was living in a very close-minded circle of treasured friends and even family who would not accept homosexuals. Neil couldn’t stand the pressure of keeping secrets from everyone he knew, but he was also filled with such fear of how his own truths would affect life as he knew it.
I really felt for Neil, as he dedicated so much of his time watching old family movies and wishing so hard to be that little boy who was close to his parents without the “invisible barriers” created by who he has discovered himself to be. Neil brought to the forefront a very scary concern: the idea that our parents don’t know who we really are and that maybe, just maybe, they know and want to pretend otherwise. Isn’t that one of the loneliest realizations?
Even when dispersed between Neil’s newly discovered friends, ventures into the gay nightclub scene, and affection for a certain boy named Ian, the heavy stuff in When Love Comes to Town only seems to get heavier when the opportunity presents itself: AIDs, rejection, bullying, and loss in many different degrees.
Still Neil cannot experience the lowest of lows without the occasion highs that come in the form of an accepting female best friend, great music lyrics, and even the comfort of knowing that his religion will hold him tight, even when it seems like an impossibility. When Love Comes to Town felt like a prelude to other wonderful books I’ve had the pleasure of reading in the past year like J.H. Trumble’s Don’t Let Me Go + Where You Are, as well as Kirstin Cronn-Mills’ Beautiful Music for Ugly Children. Though the struggles these characters face are along the same lines, have things indeed improved in the years since When Love Comes to Town was released in Ireland?
I’d like to think so, I really would. I’d also like to think, 25 years later, older and wiser, Neil is somewhere happy and warm and wholeheartedly loved.