Tag Archives: LGBT literature

Review: When Love Comes to Town

19 Mar

In 1993, a Catholic school English teacher in Dublin wrote When Love Comes to Town under the pseudonym Tom Lennon.  He chose a pseudonym because writing about a gay teenager coming to terms with his attractions and his identity would’ve likely cost him his job. Twenty years later, When Love Comes to Town was published in the US for the first time. 

This review contains spoilers for When Loves Comes to Town.

ImageThis novel fits the coming-of-age tale format, but it is remarkable for having been published so ahead of its time.

The novel’s main character, Neil, is still in the closet at the beginning of the book, deflecting off anything uncomfortable with cocky, mildly homophobic jokes. He’s popular and well-liked, but when he’s by himself his thoughts are full of longing for a boy that he’s barely spoken to.

Neil has just turned eighteen, meaning he can legally drink and go to bars, including Dublin’s gay bars. I love how this book realistically portrays gay culture and the gay experience. It doesn’t sugar-coat it and it doesn’t cast everything as gloom and doom. At the gay bar, as in any bar, there are the seedier people and the people that are lonely and desperate for companionship along with the happy-go-lucky revelers.

Neil starts up a complicated friendship with an older gay man he nicknames Sugar Daddy, purely because Neil enjoys being admired. That sounds callous, but it’s a realistic sort of relationship that one fumbles through when one is young and feeling out sexuality.

I also loved the wide range of reactions from Neil’s friends and family when he comes out. His close female friend takes it in stride and isn’t at all surprised, continuing to treating him as she always did. When he tells his sister, though, her reaction is “what he would expect if he had said he had cancer.” His parents have a highly negative reaction, especially his father. Some of his classmates start calling him insulting nicknames. Neil is beaten up several times throughout the book, and in one instance, quite brutally.

And, we get a positive portrayal of a Catholic priest! Since when does that happen in a book about gay sexuality? The local Father is sensitive and receptive when Neil talks to him, and it seems clear that he knows about Neil’s sexual orientation long before he comes out. Toward the beginning of the book, they’re talking about how Neil has decided to major in something his parents won’t be happy with. The priest says something along the lines of, “You’ll have to tell them eventually. They’ll still love you,” and it seems very clear that he’s not talking about university majors anymore. Having that sort of positive relationship with another member of the community was a great touch.

I found it refreshing that the boy that Neil pines for at the beginning isn’t the first relationship he has. He falls for an older boy named Shane, and the messy relationship that ensues feels very realistic. Neil falls hard, Shane considers it less of a serious thing, and miscommunications ensue. Of course, in the end, the door is open for Neil to possibly make things work with Ian, the boy he’s pined over since the beginning.

The book is left open-ended as Neil makes the first step toward starting things off with Ian. One of my few qualms with the book is that we get to see so little of this young man’s personality that Neil pines over throughout the novel!

Overall, though, this novel should be essential reading for those exploring LGBT young adult literature. Whether straight, gay, bisexual, or still figuring it all out, many teens will relate to Neil’s story as he pushes boundaries, takes risks, suffers heartache, and finds out who his true friends are.

*A warning for those who don’t like strong language: The Irish are far more casual with their cussing, so don’t be surprised if the novel seems far more liberal with the swearing. 

*Also, in this new US version, there is a handy glossary of Irish terms that Americans might not be familiar with.