This month, the all-new (and yet to fully organise itself) book club had a read of Patrick Ness’ Release. This twice Carnegie Medal Winner from the multi-award winning author of A Monster Calls and the Chaos Walking trilogy presents a personal story about love and heartbreak.
I found Release to be an easy and enjoyable read. It’s refreshing in the way it handles relationships in Young Adult fiction, particularly gay relationships, in a way that isn’t cringe-worthy or overly-romantic but is instead open and honest. It draws on so many classic themes of coming-of-age and stories of test loves and heartache that the characters feel almost immediately relatable- you sympathise with the angsty teenagers because at one point or another you’ve been the child rebelling against their parents. In this sense, the book has an almost nostalgic feel, with Ness drawing on other texts like Woolf’s ‘Mrs Dalloway’ and Blume’s ‘Forever’ to follow a day-in-the-life of the text’s central character. It’s homely, it’s funny, and it’s heartbreakingly redemptive, all in the right order.
My main criticism of this book is that it has two excellent storylines but only fully develops one. There is a second, fantasy-focused storyline running parallel to the main plot, which in itself sounds like a fascinating story that the reader only gets half of throughout the book. It would have been nice to see some more of this storyline interweaving with the other because otherwise, you could ignore the fantasy-aspects and the main storyline would still make sense.
Overall, Release is a nice, entertaining read that allowed me to switch off for an afternoon and enjoy a good book, but I probably wouldn’t reread it or recommend it for anything more than a way to pass the time in the summer holidays.
One of the things I love most about Patrick Ness (which I first saw in one of his other novels, The Rest of Us Just Live Here) is his ability to make the supernatural seem mundane and ordinary and every day look like anything but. As a massive fan of fantasy novels, I don’t usually go anywhere near a slice-of-life narrative. And yet, Ness manages to make a few hours in the real world seem just as appealing as most of the stuff I would choose to read in my spare time.
However, unfortunately, I think this is one of Release’s biggest downfalls. In The Rest of Us Just Live Here, the fantasy sections were concise and straightforward, and that’s what made them so compelling. But in Release, I ended up more or less skipping over the chapters with the Queen to get back to the main story. I liked how her and Adam’s stories began and ended together, but I honestly believe you could remove all of the Queen’s chapters from the novel and still enjoy it just as much.
Thankfully, that’s the only major weak point I could find while reading Release. I loved the story so much I ended up reading the whole thing in one sitting. Which worked very nicely; the length of the book combined with the time frame in which it’s written meant I was reading it more or less in real time, which was a nice touch. I found Adam’s narrative compelling, with the right balance of light-hearted and dark moments that kept me engaged throughout.
Overall, I enjoyed reading Release. My only real criticism is that on this occasion only, I’d prefer it if Ness could decide whether he favours fantasy or real life.
Well, toss me a potion and call me Jekyll: I am in two minds about this one. On the one hand, Adam’s story was deeply compelling. Ness isn’t afraid to tackle hard-hitting issues: sexuality, harassment, labels and heartbreak. The exploration of homophobia; Adam’s strict Christian parent’s refusal to accept that “he might be a bit gay” and his own movement towards self-acceptance was honestly poignant. You find yourself seriously rooting for the guy; emotionally invested in his relationships. His friendship with Angela for one (who is, undoubtedly the best character, fight me on this), was a wonderful highlight, acting as a beacon of hope throughout the story. Her character’s ongoing support a reminder that “something new can begin”, even if all seems hopeless.
However, I have to say; the writing style did not thrill me. In conjunction with the intimacy and complexity of Ness’s narrative, the way that he uses close third-person narration to characterise Adam felt a little immature. That may have been the intention; he is, after all, a seventeen-year-old boy. However, from the offset I found this jarring; like the author was trying a little too hard to capture the voice of a teenager.
I could have also done without the italicised, paranormal subplot of Katherine Van Leuwen and the faun. Even though it actively crossed over at the end of the novel, I felt like it detracted from the intimacy of Adam and his experiences. It just seemed like a metaphor that was bolted on to explain the idea of finding a “release” – which, honestly, did not need spelling out so clearly. Give us some credit.
Although I did enjoy this novel, I think it would be much stronger if it were solely Adam focused: skipping the more whimsical deer and dead people. Instead of presenting the genuine struggles of Adam and using the one-day premise to emphasise how one’s self-perception can shift in a day.
A small side note: The SCAN Book Club is a new and yet forming group with the idea that students should be able to find the time to read for pleasure even in our busy student lives. We want to both create an active reading group for this and be able to provide recommendations of new and upcoming works of fiction outside of reading lists and coursework. If you are interested in getting involved, please email Ruth Walbank at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.