Can I love? he thought. Can I? Can I be loved?
Adam Thorn is having what will turn out to be the most unsettling, difficult day of his life, with relationships fracturing, a harrowing incident at work, and a showdown between this gay teen and his preacher father that changes everything. It’s a day of confrontation, running, sex, love, heartbreak, and maybe, just maybe, hope. He won’t come out of it unchanged. And all the while, lurking at the edges of the story, something extraordinary and unsettling is on a collision course.
* * * *
4 / 5
Release, like every other Patrick Ness book I’ve read, and I’ve read four or five, is beautiful, poignant, sad, and really, really, really, weird. There’s two overlapping stories here; the first is an excellent one focusing on Adam Thorn, the very gay son of very religious parents who is counting down the days until he can leave home, and the second is some sort of bizarre fairy tale type involving a Queen, the spirit of a murdered girl, and a faun.
First, let’s talk about Adam. Adam Thorn is tall, blonde, beautiful, and unloved. Release captures just one day in Adam’s life, starting with when his older brother Marty ran over the Chrysanthemums and Adam is ordered to go and buy more. Then there’s his shift at the warehouse counting stock and dealing with creepy boss, his afternoon interlude with secret boyfriend Linus, and meet-up with his best friend Angela to sort out pizza for the going away party of Enzo, the boy who broke Adam’s heart.
“I’m always gay?”
“In every universe.”
“That makes sense. Are you always short?”
“Except in the universes where I’m Beyonce.”
“In some universes, we’re all Beyonce.”
Release is about lots of things: friendship, Angela is an amazing friend and a wonderful character,;abusive parents, Adam’s family is the sort of horrible where everything looks fine and respectable to the outsider but is, upon examination, a terrible environment; sexuality, because Adam’s torn between the wonderful boyfriend he isn’t sure he loves and the ex who never treated him right; and religion, because Adam’s father is a priest and his brother is training to be one and their love for Christ conflicts with their love for Adam. These are just a few of the themes Ness touches upon, and I think they are all handled wonderfully, but this is definitely an older teen/adult novel.
The second story I frankly viewed as an unwelcome interlude. It was all a bit supernatural and paranormal and had very little overlap with Adam’s story. I’m sure it had a good message and some artistic value, but I failed to really “get it”.
“It was so much easier to be loved than to have to do any of the desperate work of loving.”
Ness’ writing is, as usual, superb. It’s sort of lyrical and musical, but also very emotive and wonderfully easy to read. Ness makes it very easy to love and relate to Adam and there were a couple of points in the last half of the book where there were a few tears in my eyes. The pacing is great too; I’ve read a few books which, like Release, span over just one day, but I’ve never thought that the author made it work so well as Ness did here.
Overall, Release is a short but beautiful book. It’s well worth reading for Adam’s story alone and if you like supernatural elements, then you get the added bonus of the fairy spirits.