Today, Release, a new YA novel by Patrick Ness, hits the shelves of New Zealand bookshops. We asked a Wellington-based book club – adults who read a lot of YA, and fans of Ness’s previous work – to get together to discuss it. Here’s Emma Rutherford, Ceridwyn Roberts and Sarah Newman.
On a dark and stormy night, three women and one baby sat down to discuss the much-awaited latest novel from Patrick Ness, Release. This review is an overview of our discussion.
Release is written with a nod to Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume’s Forever – it’s a snapshot of a teenage boy’s life, reflecting understanding of teenage relationships and sexuality, over the course of one day.
Adam is preparing for the party of the year – but during the day he will have some very important conversations and a small, but important shift in understanding himself. In alternate chapters, a parallel fantasy-based story plays. A faun is observing the Queen – the Queen being the spirit of a girl from Adam’s school who has recently been murdered.
The book is told from the perspective of Adam. Adam is at the end of his second-to-last year at High School. He has a best friend, Angela, and is confused about the relationships that he has experienced over the last couple of years. The book shows him getting ready for a big party where he will have to farewell a classmate he had a relationship with, while seeming ambivalent about his current relationship.
While Adam is an exceptionally well-developed character, we were all impressed with the depth and life given to the supporting characters. Ness is exceptionally good at adding humanity to his most fearsome characters and it means that characters that could have been a cliché – like Adam’s preacher father – are a lot more nuanced. Adam’s conservative brother, Marty, is at theology college studying to join the family business, but he has a secret that he wants Adam to help him with. Adam is surer of himself than Marty, despite being younger. In one exchange:
Marty: “You got lost on your journey somewhere.”
Adam: “That’s what everyone says who never bothered to go on a journey in the first place.”
They have different viewpoints and concerns, but during Adam’s day it becomes clear that Marty has developed as well – he reflects on his values and decides to be a better brother. It comes across as genuine change and is beautifully written.
We spent a lot of time discussing how closely related the character Adam is to Patrick Ness himself. Patrick explains in his notes that it is a very personal book (but makes clear that the father-son relationship in the book does not mirror his life). The author further notes that he had quite a religious upbringing – much like Adam.
Initially we questioned Adam’s eloquence – is it a false maturity? On reflection, though, Adam has really had to spend a lot of time thinking about himself, his family and what he wants. He is also superbly supported by his best friend’s family – in fact, identifies them as his real family – who he goes to when he has problems.
We all found the parallel fantasy storyline the weakest part of the book. Though usually enjoying fantasy storylines, we found this one somewhat intrusive. While it mirrors the development of Adam, it does not seem to provide any further understanding or insight into the story. It felt like it deliberately broke the momentum of Adam’s story – but for what purpose? Was there a fable referenced we were unfamiliar with? It would be interesting to read the author’s comments on this when the book is released.
Part of the skill of the author is shown by the pace of the book. Despite exceptional detail in characters and setting,
the book is not wordy and is quite captivating. Without giving anything away, we thought that the ending was realistic and good. We felt that Patrick had achieved his Mrs Dalloway aim. You learn a lot about Adam’s life and the world that he lives in over the course of 24 hours. You do feel that Adam just quietly comes to an understanding about himself – an accommodation that will make things easier for him. There is no desire to neatly tie up every plot line.
We all agreed this isn’t the best Patrick Ness book. It didn’t quite hit the mark for us. We would recommend A Monster Calls and The Rest of Us Just Live Here as the better examples of the author’s work.
However, we would definitely recommend Release for the young adult market. There are not enough YA books out there that have gay lead characters, particularly ones so exceptionally written. We were impressed that relationships were discussed very realistically – including quite a great deal of ambivalence and uncertainty from Adam about his partners. There is a real message contained within that ‘it gets better.’
By Patrick Ness
Published by Walker Books
Emma Rutherford enjoys reading and creating. After learning about Emma's jam-making efforts one summer Booksellers asked her to review a cookbook featuring jams and preserves. Since then Emma has also reviewed for The Sapling and NZEI Te Riu Roa. Emma's area of speciality is cookbooks and craft books, particularly for children and young people. Emma lives in Te Whanganui a Tara where she and her children enjoy hosting 'crafternoons.'