Inspired by Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume’s Forever, Release is one day in the life of Adam Thorn, 17. It’s a big day. Things go wrong. It’s intense, and all the while, weirdness approaches…
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.
Inspiration and Parallels
The opening chapter of Release gave me pause for the extent to which it borrowed from the beginnings of Mrs Dalloway. I knew that Ness took inspiration from Mrs Dalloway and Forever by Judy Blume. I’ve read the former, but not the latter. And let’s just say, I didn’t like that classic very much. I gave it 0.5 stars, although I could see what Virginia Woolf had meant to accomplish. But I’ve adored past books of Patrick Ness, so I was curious.
Initially, I was wary when the day of Adam Thorn, much like Clarissa Dalloway, started with buying flowers. Thank goodness, my worries were soon forgotten. While Release was built on a similar framework and adopted symbolism and motifs, it still was a distinctly Patrick Ness book. What do I mean by that? The style, the vision, and the approach to storytelling in Release were his — whimsical, raw, relatable and parts that felt just a little out of reach. They required the reader to work at even remotely grasping the point of everything.
When that “Aha!” moment came to me, I had to put down the book to revisit in my mind all that I had read, to make sense of the connections. With two stories running parallel — one contemporary, one paranormal — it did seem at first like two random books had been mashed together, not even necessarily of the same author.
Come to think about it, that’s life. We live our own, not paying much attention to strangers’ lives and when we do, they can seem kind of like a fog. However, connected to every place, there are hundreds and thousands of lives and stories. Patrick Ness presented two that beyond a shared locale had no direct links, yet were remarkably intertwined in direction and in emotions.
A Book with Heart
It was evident that Ness poured his heart into Release. He dealt with the difficulties of being gay in a conservative religious home, not being accepted by parents, double standards within family, unrequited love, friendship, identity, belonging, and so much more. He grappled with the pain, the joy, and everything in between, with a culmination in liberation. Meshing memories and hopes of Adam, while going through a day in which the mundane and the pivotal moments collided really showed the ways he was affected and his character developed.
Lack of Cohesion
As much as I’m struck by my love for Release, I have to hold back on 5 stars for this reason: the secondary plot meandered so much at times, that instead of being pulled into the dreamy atmosphere, I was pulled out of the primary plot. The connections only started to make sense in the second half of the book, which made the first half overly tedious to read and stay connected to.
In the end though, things came heart achingly full circle, and that in the span of a single day in the life of Adam Thorn.