By Tom Lennon
Introduction by James Klise
Available now from Albert Whitman Teen
This is the twentieth-anniversary edition of WHEN LOVE COMES TO TOWN, first published in Ireland in 1993. It's dated in some ways, particularly in protagonist Neil Byrne's love of Sinead O'Connor. But it's a book and a story that still has a lot to offer.
Neil knows that he's gay. He's afraid of what that means for his future, but he's starting to explore what it means for himself. He tells his best friend, he tells his sister, and he starts to secretly visit a local gay bar. His actions lead to encounters with a variety of people, from drag queens to an older admirer to gay bashers.
The appeal of WHEN LOVE COMES TO TOWN is not limited to gay teens or those interested in the history of gay literature. Neil's ill-fated romance with a self-absorbed jerk reminds me of several friend's early college relationships. There's always that guy, looking for someone not experienced enough to recognize his tricks, and Neil is not the first person fictional or real to fall for his charm. People are less afraid of AIDS and medicine has improved, but it's certainly a concern for anyone whose sexually active. And even if more of the world is accepting, coming out still isn't easy or always safe. Reading WHEN LOVE COMES TO TOWN, it's easy to see how far we've come and notice how far we've yet to go.
This is a very dramatic novel and I was often afraid it was going to end up horribly depressing, but I feel that it ended with a note of hope. Neil not only comes to terms with himself, but also manages to make most of his friends and family come to terms with his identity. He's the poetic, introspective type and kind of pessimistic, despite his sporty credentials, but that doesn't make him a delicate flower. He grows into himself quite well.
I hope a new generation will enjoy WHEN LOVE COMES TO TOWN. I enjoyed it and I certainly have no nostalgia about it. (It came out when I was four. I'm not that old.) It will probably appeal to fans of contemporary as well as historical fiction, since it was contemporary when it was written. And honestly, 1990 wasn't that long ago. (My birthday is approaching so sometimes I feel like I am that old.)
The introduction by James Klise (LOVE DRUGGED) is informative and adds helpful context to WHEN LOVE COMES TO TOWN.