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The year is 1990, and in his hometown of Dublin, Ireland, Neil Byrne plays rugby, keeps up with the in-crowd at his school, and is just a regular guy. A guy who's gay. It's a secret he keeps from the wider world as he explores the city at night and struggles to figure out how to reveal his real self--and to whom.
First published in Ireland in 1993 and compared to The Catcher in the Rye by critics, Tom Lennon's When Loves Comes to Town is told with honesty, humor, and originality.
This is the 20th anniversary edition of When Love Comes To Town. At first I didn’t realize it was a re-issue. But I’m glad for it as I got the chance to experience a time and place as it was back then, not from memory but as it was happening. The foreword by James Klise provides a stark reminder that this book arrived on the scene before famous people coming out of the closet became the norm. That provided an interesting perspective as I read through one of the best and most touching books on the subject.
Neil truly is just one of the lads. He’s bright, personable, athletic and charming, surrounded by many friends though still feels separate from everyone because of what he is hiding. Lennon does a fantastic job laying out the path that Neil begins on as he gains the courage to be himself. He starts by revealing himself to one of his best friends, Becky. Her reaction and instant acceptance are a surprise and relief to him. Having at least one person know this secret that he’s held so close is like opening a floodgate encouraging him to be braver.
He stumbles upon a gay bar in Dublin where he’s a little out of his element at first but ends up making new friends. As the story progresses, Neil balances between his worlds – his gay friends, the select few who know his secret and the rest of his oblivious family and friends.
When Love Comes To Town is a lovely coming-of-age story that's compassionate, thoughtful and witty. I instantly took to Neil. He's the kind of guy you'd want to be your best friend or brother. He has a wonderful personality that is so welcoming and devoid of pretense. Yes, I know that is odd to say considering how he’s been hiding his sexuality. But he’s such a genuine guy who is trying to come into his own. That’s a struggle every person goes through regardless of sexual orientation. And the story is not just about Neil. It’s also about the people around him who are learning to adjust to changes in their own lives and relationships. Neil’s observations are perceptive. His willing acceptance of some of his friend's reactions is remarkably generous considering how close-minded they are.
I highly recommend When Love Comes To Town. It's a brilliant book about self-discovery without a whole lot of angst or overly dramatic elements. It's simply charming, starting out with promise, delivering straight through the end!