Book Review: Release by Patrick Ness

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, LGBT+

Publishing Info: 2017 by Walker Books Ltd.

Pages: 287

Star Rating: 3/5


Back Cover Summary:

It’s Saturday, it’s summer and,
though he doesn’t know it yet,

everything in Adam Thorn’s life is
going to fall apart. Relationships
will change, he’ll change, but
maybe, just maybe, he’ll find
freedom in the release.

Time is running out though,
because way across town a ghost
has risen from the lake. Searching,
yearning, she leaves a trail of
destruction in her wake…

*Warning: This contains spoilers to the plot of the book, including the ending*

I was very excited when I started reading this book, as I enjoyed this author’s previous works, including the Chaos Walking trilogy and Class, a television spin-off to Doctor Who. I was also looking forward to reading a YA novel that featured an LGBT+ protagonist because I feel that this is still lacking representation in the mainstream literary market, even in 2018.

The protagonist, Adam Thorn, is about to pass into adulthood in a seemingly conservative and religious small town. His ‘release’, as suggested by the title, is about being able to move forward when relationships in his life change over the space of one day. This includes the relationship he has with his highly religious parents, who have to push themselves to overlook the fact he is gay to love him, the relationship with his best friend, who is moving away, and the relationship he has with his two lovers, one about to leave and one who is coming further into his life.

He is a likeable and relatable protagonist, possibly one that Ness wanted to create as a role model for LGBT+ teenagers in a similar position who also need their ‘release’. The honest talk about his previous experiences, from first sexual release to penetrative sex to first boyfriend feels like a natural journey. His current relationship, with geeky kid Linus, feels right, like it’s something that the audience would want as well.

The humanity of the characters is definitely the strongest part of the book; it could have been so easily for Ness to go down the caricature and typecast route when it comes to certain individuals (such as the religious family). However, most of them feel like realistic representations of people that can be seen in western society, whilst keeping them in line with the YA tone of self-discovery and change. The only exception is Adam’s creepy boss at work, who frequently comes on to Adam and tries to blackmail him into having sex with him in order to keep his job. The more realistic plot points are the most effective and ones like this seem out of place and over-dramatic for the sake of it, even for a book with fantasy elements.

This is most definitely a book of two halves; whilst Adam’s narrative works extremely well with the Mrs Dalloway style of having an entire novel taking place over just one day, the fantasy aspects, much like the origin of its protagonist, are watered down and incomprehensible. It actually took me two reads of this book to understand the series of events that take place around Katherine, who was killed by her boyfriend in a drug-induced rage and dumped in the lake and even now I am still not 100% sure.

Her spirit seems to merge with a Queen of some kind of fantasy or spirit world, who needs to return back to where she comes from or else the world will be destroyed, I think. The action constantly flips back and forth between Adam and Katherine’s narratives and, whilst that is a positive since it shows two storylines occurring at the same time, it is the latter that ultimately suffers. I didn’t feel like I was given much information on where the Queen comes from and what she is after, unless she is Katherine’s spirit herself? There’s also a faun, not a cute Narnia variety but more of a Pan’s Labyrinth menacing and used to eat human flesh variety. With every 8 pages that Adam gets, Katherine only gets 2 or 3 and the confusion and lack of information in the writing means it’s hard to really care about these characters. It is clear that Adam is the focus in Release, so why is this fantasy narrative here, apart from providing a contrast?

The ending sees the world about to end unless the Queen/Katherine returns to the spirit world. Though there are brief fun references in the main narrative to the spirit world, such as a man seeing a goat, there isn’t much build-up with regards to the apocalypse. Even though Adam’s world has fallen down and now he feels released from what is holding him back, a literal destruction of the world would have been completely the wrong way to go, which is why the ending feels very predictable. Adam sees the Queen/Katherine and the faun in the forest near the lake where she died and hands her a rose that he couldn’t decide who to hand it to. The rose seemed to be what brought Katherine’s spirit back to this world and him handing her it is a bit of a deus ex machina, and a bit predictable too. I also wish that Adam had the final word in the book, instead of a conversation between the faun and the Queen.

This novel is definitely one of two halves, with Adam’s strand, locked into reality and seeing his struggle as a gay teenager, way and above stronger than Katherine’s fantastical strand that isn’t completely explained. The latter doesn’t completely override the good parts but I could have honestly read a whole book about a day in the life of Adam Thorn.



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