Friday, September 22, 2017

Book Review: "Release" by Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness' new book, Release, is essentially two completely different novels in one. The core story is absolutely wonderful, thought-provoking and emotional, funny and sweet, and it reaffirmed why I am such a fan of Ness' writing. While I think I understood the point of the second story, I don't understand why it was necessary to tack it on here, so I guess I would have preferred some sort of explanation or connection between the two.

Some may be so put off by the second story that it may detract from your enjoyment of the core story, and that's unfortunate, because there is so much heart and poetry to be found.

One hell of a day is in store for Adam Thorn. His ex-boyfriend-of-sorts, Enzo, is leaving to move to Atlanta, and he still can't seem to shake his feelings for Enzo or completely process how and why their relationship ended. And although a new boy, Linus, is more than happy to take Enzo's place, and might possibly be in love with Adam, Adam is struggling with feelings of betrayal and low self-worth. He hopes everything will work its way out at Enzo's farewell "get-together."

Meanwhile, there is a crisis at home which roils his ultra-religious family. While Adam has gotten used to his parents' barely hidden disapproval of him (although he's never come out to them), it still hurts to see how easily they will forgive the missteps of his brother, who is following in the footsteps of their preacher father, but that they don't get him. But more and more, Adam knows that your chosen family is so much more important and cherished than the one you're born into.

For Adam, that chosen family is his best friend, Angela, and her family. Adam and Angela have gotten each other since a near-death experience bonded them together as young children. Adam envies Angela's relationship with her free-spirited parents, while Angela is saddened for her friend's treatment at the hands of his family. She's willing to fight his battles for him or with him, and always has his back. But she, too, has a bombshell for Adam which threatens to rock their solid core.

As if the day can't get any worse, things at his part-time job at the "evil international mega-conglomerate" come to a head because of his creepy, lecherous boss, Wade. When Wade gives Adam an ultimatum he really can't refuse despite the implications, it sets up multiple confrontations which put Adam on the short end of the stick. It's really enough to break anyone, much someone struggling as much as Adam is.

Meanwhile, as Adam's life appears to be falling apart, a second story is occurring, one with a plot that is part fantasy, part supernatural (I think). In this story, which takes place at the same time and in some of the same places as Adam's story, a faun with mysterious powers must save his young queen from enacting her revenge, even if it means destruction for them both. There is some overlap to Adam's story (that eventually becomes clear), but I don't actually know if what takes place in the story really does happen in Adam's world.

I'm trying to be somewhat vague, even with Adam's story, because it flows so beautifully as it unfolds. Nothing is necessarily earth-shattering or unique, but there's just so much love, pain, angst, and heart, I fell head over heels for the story. And while the other story is confusing, Ness is still a tremendously poetic guide, so I marveled at his language even as I found myself asking over and over, "What does this have to do with the story?"

Ness knows how to tug at your heartstrings and how to make you laugh. The relationship between Adam and Angela felt so loving and genuine that it makes you wish you had a friendship like that (or perhaps inspires you to call that special friend and let them know how you feel about them). While Adam's situation is a little depressing at times, you know there are so many teenagers just like Adam struggling with these same issues. I know I struggled with some of them myself back before movable type was invented.

One interesting thing, which may or may not put you off this book: Release is the first book I've read that actually has sex scenes between two gay teenagers. (They're of age, though, so relax.) They're not completely explicit but they're definitely more detailed than what you usually see in YA novels. So be warned if that makes you uncomfortable.

Not everyone will love this book, because of that odd second plot. I totally understand that, but it's sad, because I think that at its core, Release is a book about finding the freedom you need to be yourself and live your own way, no matter who you are or how you choose to label yourself. It's also a book about love, both conditional and unconditional, whether it's among family, between friends, or in a romantic sense.

While this isn't quite the home run I had hoped it would be, I still love the way Ness writes, and it will be a while before I can get this book out of my head. I still have to catch up on some of Ness' older books, too.

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