Author: Patrick Ness.
Publisher: Walker Books.
Drawing on his own personal experiences, Patrick Ness’s most recent novel is a semi-autobiographical exploration of growing up in an Evangelical household, specifically from the perspective of a homosexual teen.
Release (2017) follows a day in the life of Adam Thorn, son of an Evangelical pastor, in his rural community in America from his job, his struggles at home, to his struggles over his love life. His story is interspersed with another narrative – a fantasy story – about a recently murdered girl and a sort of mystical Fairy Queen. Confused? Yeah, I wouldn’t blame you, but I’ll explain the dual-narrative set up below.
Author Patrick Ness, openly gay, grew up in an Evangelical household. He struggled in his home environment because of his sexuality but managed to get out. Thus, Release is Ness’s method of discussing his own experiences of living in an environment that denounced his sexuality. The passages that follow Adam in the novel are incredibly honest, and it is apparent that Ness is speaking of events close to his own life. Along with this are passages that follow the girl, a faun and a Queen, who are searching for redemption for the girl’s murder. The girl’s journey in the fantasy narrative is used to represent Adam’s internal struggles as he journeys to understand his own thoughts. This set up is reminiscent of Jeannette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit (1985), a semi-autobiographical novel that Winterson used to discuss her own upbringing as a lesbian in an English Evangelical household. She also uses the dual narrative of realism and fantasy to explain both the external and internal struggles of her position in an oppression environment.
The sections that follow Adam are the stand-out parts of the novel. They are brutally honest and explore themes such as toxic religiosity, loss, sexual harassment, and heartache. Ness doesn’t shy away from sex scenes as his descriptions of m/m sex are well written, and the heartache of ex-lovers and his present boyfriend are deeply moving. This is greatly contrasted with the suffocation Adam feels within his home as his family shames him for his sexuality. Adam’s narrative is undoubtedly up there with Ness’s best. It has the emotional struggle of More Than This (2013), and almost reaches the loss of A Monster Calls (2011).
The passages that follow the Queen, the faun, and the girl, however, are not as compelling. The narrative is meant to symbolically parallel Adam’s but where Jeannette Winterson succeeded with her dual narrative, Ness is less convincing. The fantasy sections don’t have the emotional impact of the other sections, and, similar to a lot of other readers, I felt removed from the brilliance of Adam’s narrative when it would switch to the girl. It is by no means bad, in fact it features beautiful description, but her story just doesn’t have the draw or engagement as Adam’s. It is understandable what Ness was trying to accomplish but if it the novel had just followed Adam, this would arguably have been Ness’s greatest novel.
Release is definitely a novel of contrast. Some parts were far superior to others, but for Adam’s story and Ness’s honest writing, it is worth the read.