It’s times like this when I wish I went into teaching at some level to share a story like this with my students. It’s heartbreaking, but hopeful and I can only imagine what it would be like if I were an Irish teen reading this in the mid 1990s after it was written. Honestly, I would’ve felt just like Neil when he found out he wasn’t ‘the only gay in the village.’
I wasn’t sure what to expect of this novel and Tom Lennon (a pseudonym to protect his Catholic-school teaching identity and he’s still unknown) as an Irish author writing about LGBT characters had the decks stacked against him: Jamie O’Neill can do no wrong, John Boyne won me over with The Absolutist, Damian McNicholl put up a good effort with A Son Called Gabriel and Oscar Wilde is, well, Oscar Wilde. Needless to say, Tom Lennon did not disappoint, and as I listed all of those authors I realized his story pre-dated all of the rest by at least a decade with the exception of Oscar Wilde, so I’m excited his story is being introduced to the US.
I’m going to start my fawning by saying I have to eat my words. I rail on-and-on about archetypes and tropes in LGBT literature and how it’s exhausting reading them over-and-over again. However, every one of them appears in this novel and I can’t help but appreciate how well done it was. There was not a single thing overdone and the quiet power of this novel only goes to show that archetypes and tropes when used properly don’t necessarily take away from the story.
What I loved most about the book were the things that I don’t like in many other LGBT teen or romance novels, from the woes of first love to a first relationship and from the pain of a hate crime to the freedom of expressing oneself to friends and family, this novel made everything seem fresh and new even though it was written 20 years ago and so much has changed in the last two decades.
And to close everything off, I’m not sure what Lennon’s background is as a teacher, but I’m guessing he taught English/Literature/Writing because his way with words and drawing emotions out of the reader was superb! I found myself gripping my kindle with white knuckles and fear/nausea on numerous occasions, dreamily sighing out loud over first loves and even laughing on occasion. Lennon does a great job of dragging you through the high’s and lows of the life of a teenager without over doing it.
Recommendation: READ IT. I don’t care who you are, what your beliefs are, where you live or any of that stuff. You can learn something from this novel. Perhaps what is most surprising, is I don’t have anything negative to say about the novel.
Opening Line: “Neil rested his elbows on the window ledge, sank his chin into his hands, and stared out across the neighborhood gardens.”
Closing Line: “They always told him to tell the truth, but now it was clear to him that they didn’t want to hear the truth.” (Whited out.)