♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ . 5 s t a r s
Adam Thorn hasn’t been having the best day of his life. His ex-boyfriend, who he might still be in love with, is going away tonight and Adam’s going to the going-away party, but the situation is bringing up old memories and pent-up emotions and the heartbreak Enzo left behind when he walked out of Adam’s life. Either way, Adam has a new boyfriend now, who’s nice and cares deeply about him, but does Adam love him like he loved Enzo? But there’s more – his brother drops a revelation that shocks Adam, and he has to come to make some difficult decisions regarding his ultra-religious parents and his sexuality; the fact that he’s fired from work the same day doesn’t help the day get any better. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, the ghost of a murdered girl has risen from the lake…
Patrick Ness writes in his author’s note, “How do we ever, ever survive our teenage years? Every young person you meet is a walking, talking miracle.” Going into the book having read this line was an experience in and of itself, because it nudged me towards reading the book a certain way – a way that made me appreciate its weirdness, its sometimes-confusing components. Release cemented Patrick Ness’s signature move in my mind – he combines the ordinary and the extraordinary, and he blurs the lines between the two to the point where you ask yourself, “What?” at least a few times every few pages. The message takes some time to sink in, but when it does, it clicks into place: your life, your teenage years and the heartaches, the pain and the joys, in all their ordinariness, are no less extraordinary than fantasies. The parallels are muddled and confusing, so much so that sometimes I wondered what was the point of including the fantastical elements to the book, but look closely. It’s there – just out of reach, and it gives the novel a completely new layer. I was more interested in Adam’s “ordinary” story than the ghost of a murdered meth addict and dead queens and fauns- and ultimately, that’s the point. There need not be something magical for your story to be extraordinary. Ness’s devotion to the wonderful strength of ordinary teenage life speaks volumes throughout the entire body of his work, and it shines in Release too.
Perhaps one of the reasons I adore Ness’s work so much is because he doesn’t treat his young characters like an age, like many older writers tend to do when they’re writing YA. There is no condescension in Ness’s themes; his characters’ romances are as intense as they are for many of us when it comes to first love. Their pains aren’t dramatized and glamorized, but are given an incredible amount of empathy from the person writing them. Ness writes about young people for young people, and he never, ever sugarcoats it. I don’t say this lightly when I say that I wish I had something like Patrick Ness’s books when I was a teenager, when my feelings – whether they be positive or negative – were being invalidated because “I’m still just a kid.” I wish I had something like his novels to tell me that sure, I am a kid, but that doesn’t mean my feelings are less valid, and being a kid sure as hell isn’t something I should be ashamed of.
This book is #OwnVoices for gay representation – there are two or three main characters in this book, and none of them are straight, though Adam’s best friend is questioning whether she is bisexual. We have Adam, who is a young gay boy from an ultra-religious family, whose father is a preacher, who has been left and beaten down from all sides of his life. Everybody he’s ever been close to has moved away, and the people who were meant to be his family make him feel unwanted. He feels unloved, like he doesn’t deserve anything good, simply because he’s never gotten it. His development, over the course of the day, is glaringly apparent and you can’t help but love everything about him by the first few chapters. Ness does a beautiful job of showing Adam’s vulnerabilities; he’s a beefy boy who isn’t afraid to break down when he needs to, who isn’t afraid to tell the people he loves that he loves them, and that he will love them until the end of the world. We need vulnerable boys in YA literature; we need their vulnerabilities to be normalized and not made a big deal of, and this book is a step in the right direction. I can’t speak for the representation in the book, because I am straight, but this is an #OwnVoices review from someone who adored the book as much as I did.
As if my ravings weren’t already enough, I have more! Release depicts sex among young people without flinching; there are no fade-out scenes, and scenes that feel so overdramatic and flowery that you roll your eyes, and flip the page. The young people who have sex in this novel talk while they’re doing it, and they laugh, and it’s sometimes awkward. There’s talk about virginities, but losing it isn’t made a big deal of like it so often is – it can be painful, and it can be quick, and it mostly never is perfect… but that’s okay. The explicit talk and the sex scenes are a warning to sex-averse readers, so be careful about that, and if you don’t want to read about sex, don’t pick this book up. It’s unflinchingly honest, and it never shies away from the subject. I also really appreciated how it dealt with sexual harassment, unwanted advances and rape culture rather honestly and brutally.
In the end, this is an important book. It’s one of the most important books I’ve read, in more ways than one. And if I had any doubt in my mind that Patrick Ness is a writer for the ages, this book completely erased that inkling of doubt, and he has cemented his place as one of the most eloquent, wonderful writers out there – not only for young people, but rather especially for young people. Read the book. It’s out in the UK already, so order it if you can’t wait. And if you can wait, read it when it releases on September 19th. Just read it and devour it and love it as much as I did.
Sexual harassment, rape culture, homophobia, murder