Release by Patrick Ness

“Adam Thorn doesn’t know it yet, but today will change his life.

Between his religious family, a deeply unpleasant ultimatum from his boss, and his own unrequited love for his sort-of ex, Enzo, it seems as though Adam’s life is falling apart.  At least he has two people to keep him sane: his new boyfriend (he does love Linus, doesn’t he?) and his best friend, Angela.

But all day long, old memories and new heartaches come crashing together, throwing Adam’s life into chaos. The bindings of his world are coming untied one by one; yet in spite of everything he has to let go, he may also find freedom in the release.”

Well, I have to hand it to Ness–the man does not shy away from playing merry hell with genres and story structure.  And I mean that in the best possible way.  One half of this story is a form of coming-of-age, coming out, family oriented story.  Adam Thorn is a preacher’s son, youngest of two, and has always felt as though he didn’t belong in his own family.  He’s much closer to his chosen family: Angela and her parents, his boyfriend Linus, and other friends with whom he works and hangs out.  Through the course of one day, a lot in his life changes, not for the better or for the worse, but simply changes.

In the other half of this story, Ness focuses on a young girl named Katie who was recently murdered and dumped in the nearby lake.  Her part of the tale, however, lands firmly in the realm of magical realism when her dying spirit bonds to that of a powerful Queen.  We don’t know if this Queen is an elemental, or a faerie, or exactly what, but the two become more closely entwined as the day goes on and Katie/the Queen seek Katie’s murderer.  Following them is a faun, desperate to save his Queen, for if the sun goes down and the two are still tangled up, Katie’s spirit will die, and the Queen with her.

Now, I can see what Ness was trying to do with this juxtaposition.  Adam and Katie have parallel journeys, both learning to let go of the ties that bind them that aren’t doing them any good.  They face pain, grant forgiveness, and reach out for healthier relationships.  The problem is that I don’t feel that the two storylines have enough of a relationship to each other.  Practically the only time they really coincide is at the very end of the novel, and then for only a page or so.  There are a few hints in the text that the events you see happening around Katie/the Queen are actually happening in the real world, but in many ways, the reader may not be sure if that’s true or not.  The language of those portions is highly stylized and could be read metaphorically, so that may add a bit to the disconnect.

That being said, each of the storylines is well written and often heartbreaking.  Adam’s eventual conversation with his father about his sexuality is simultaneously hopeful and fraught with judgement.  Katie/the Queen faces her murderer and must struggle with what to do now that she’s in front of him.  Heck, if nothing else, I have to once again admire Ness for making such an audacious choice with his story structure.  He certainly never shies away from trying something new!  For that creativity alone, I give him points.

It’s not a perfect novel by any means, but Release is unique, heartfelt, and well written.  I continue to be excited about Ness’s books and will keep recommending his work as examples of what good things can come of daring to do something different.

This book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from


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