‘Release’ by Patrick Ness: Book Review

“They’re your parents. They’re meant to love you because. Never in spite.”

Release is a young adult novel spanning one day in the life seventeen year-old Adam Thorn. Adam is gay, and although he’s dating Linus, he can’t quite let go of his history with his ex, the boy who broke his heart, and who after today, Adam might never see again. Adam is also struggling with the intense conflict between his sexuality and his family’s religious values, and is weighed down by the disapproval of his preacher father. Meanwhile, the body of a local teenage girl has just been found, and in a supernatural twist, her spirit awakens.

This book explores the day that Adam faces the mounting conflicts in his life: it means confronting his disapproving father, dealing with an inappropriate boss at work, and saying goodbye to the ex he just can’t let go of. Inspired by Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume’s Forever, this is a coming-of-age book with a hint of the supernatural, following themes of heartbreak, coming out, sex, confrontation, and letting go.

“It was so much easier to be loved than to have to do any of the desperate work of loving.”

This book is unusual in the sense that it feels like two separate stories. On one hand, we have Adam’s story, which reads as a perfectly-written, relatable, and emotional story about a gay teenager confronting the mounting tensions in his life. On the other, there is a shorter, supernatural tale about the ghost of a girl who was recently killed. Whilst I absolutely loved Adam’s story and would argue that it’s one of the most meaningful, important and well-written young adult books that I’ve read, the supernatural side of things didn’t quite win me over.

Without giving too much away, the supernatural story just didn’t interest me as much as the rest of the book, and it took a while for me to understand its relevance. By the end, I could see the parallels and underlying theme shared by the two stories, but for the most part, this part of the story was intriguing, but not astonishing. Luckily, these sections were short compared to Adam’s, so I didn’t have to wait long before diving back into the main story.

What stands out most about this book is how beautifully it is written. I’m embarrassed to admit that this is my first Patrick Ness book, and pleased to say that I am completely blown away by his writing style. This is exactly how I like my young adult books to be written, and I found myself drawn into this book for hours on end without even realising any time had passed.

The second highlight for me is the diverse set of issues that this book represents, and how well it does this. I could really feel Adam’s pain and heartbreak seeping through the book’s pages, and I think a lot of people will be able to relate to at least one of the conflicts Adam faces during the story.

“Blame is a human concept, one of its blackest and most selfish and self-binding.”

I also really like the characters in Release. For a book set over the course of the day, Ness does a great job of bringing to life each of the characters Adam encounters, giving each one a distinctive voice. Adam’s best friend Angela is a definite highlight in this book, and is the kind of character that makes you wish you knew her in real life. Even Adam’s brother, who only makes a relatively short appearance in the book, felt like a well-crafted and thought-out character, whose character developed and grew during the course of the book.

For a story with elements of the supernatural, Release feels like a very real story. It’s about real issues, which real people can relate to, and the writing really gives life to Adam’s emotions. Whilst I didn’t love the fantasy/supernatural aspects of this story, I still enjoyed these chapters, and I’m sure there are plenty of people who love the unique edge they gives Release.  This book feels tender, and honest, and is one of a small number of young adult books that doesn’t shy away from sex. I would highly recommend Release, particularly to slightly older teenagers, as this book has relatively mature themes to it that an older age range might recognise.

I was also lucky enough to have the chance to attend an event for the launch of Release and meet Patrick Ness. If you are a fan of his writing, I would highly recommend going to this sort of event if you have the chance, as he had a lot to say about the book, and about a number of different issues. It was really interesting and inspiring to hear his thoughts on representations of sex and sexuality in YA literature, on writing, and a whole host of other topics.

I will definitely be reading more of Patrick Ness’ work in the future, and if his other books are as good as Release, I can see him becoming a favourite of mine.

“Maybe hearts don’t ever stop breaking once broken.”

Rating: 4/5

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