Adam Thorn is having what will turn out to be the most unsettling, difficult day of his life, with relationships fracturing, a harrowing incident at work, and a showdown between this gay teen and his preacher father that changes everything. It’s a day of confrontation, running, sex, love, heartbreak, and maybe, just maybe, hope. He won’t come out of it unchanged. And all the while, lurking at the edges of the story, something extraordinary and unsettling is on a collision course.
Before we start: A big, big thank you must go to Walker Books for sending me a review copy. You make my bookish dreams come true, my friends.
Release is a day in the life of Adam Thorn, interspersed with a day in the life of a ghost, spirit and faun (stick with me). Where Adam’s sections are poignant and at times heartbreaking, the fantastical sections are a mysterious meandering journey for answers, for, as the title suggests, release. The two storylines meet with their need for release and while Adam’s story didn’t need the magical realism to work, or to be enjoyable, it was an intriguing addition (even if it has left some reviewers torn).
It’s a book of details, we see the kind of detail that can only be built into a novel that takes place over one day. There is no skipping over important details, every feeling is felt, every confrontation confronted and every revelation revealed in front of our waiting eyes. I like this. I like books which deal in detail. During my Creative Writing degree, we studied a module called A Day in the Life and this book would fit right into the reading list, I wish it were around when I was doing that course. It’s so engaging and a lot can be learned about writing from it, as well as it being a great reading experience.
Due to the degree of detail, we get to know the characters rather well, and what lovely characters they are. Adam is surrounded by an excellent supporting cast in the form of Angela and Linus. They are excellent. They are everything I wanted them to be and more.
Release deals with a lot of big things in a short amount of time but I think my favourite thing about it is its portrayal of relationships, romantic, familial and platonic. Every kind of relationship is hard and messy and Release doesn’t shy away from that. Ness is great at making you feel things. I felt my heart clench in moments between Adam and Linus, and I felt it break in a scene with Adam and his father, it swelled every time Adam was with Angela.
It is a sensitive representation of what it is like to be gay in a religious family that doesn’t agree with homosexuality but it packs one hell of a punch when it needs to, and emphasises that family isn’t just what you are born with, it’s what you choose. It’s a deeply personal novel, while it’s not about Ness and the characters are not people who are in his real life, you can tell he drew from his own experience and I think that’s what makes it so powerful.
The magical realism wasn’t as poignant, and that seems to be the problem for readers who didn’t like those parts, but it was interesting and it did a lot to break up the utterly terrible day Adam was having. I love a bit of fantasy, so I enjoyed it. I liked puzzling together what Katherine (a murdered girl, the ghost who has risen from the lake) was looking for, and how that linked her with the Queen (a spirit also inhabiting her ‘body’). Though it deals with murder and blame and addiction and all the mess therein, it stopped the novel from being depressing – if we had just had Adam’s day going from bad to worse to absolutely horrible, I think it would have been hard to get through. The fantasy adds something to puzzle over, something to distract, and it made each scene with Adam easier to digest. The fantasy is a palate cleanser between the meaty courses of the novel.
It does offer some light at the end of the tunnel, it’s not all doom and gloom, there are moments of dazzling brightness, alongside the dark. It’s not a novel where everything is tied up at the end, there are things that we don’t get to see (which happen after) that I am still curious about and I like it when books leave me curious. Sure, I will never get the answers I want but I will be thinking about it for days, and that’s what you want from a book. You want it to stick with you, and Release does.