Adam is weighed down by his father’s ‘Yoke’ of expectations. As the son of an evangelical preacher in small town Washington State, his parents’ inability to deal with his homosexuality and their shifting set of expectations provide the context for the ‘release’ of the title. Independence, sex without guilt and love without strings attached are the release Adam finds as he moves through the events of a single Saturday.
As with many of Ness’ books there is a supernatural storyline running alongside Adam’s. A ghostly Queen takes on the soul of a recently murdered girl and seeks answers and revenge as she moves through the town with her seven foot guardian Fawn. While I enjoyed the parallel story, I was unsure about the resonance it achieved with Adam’s story and didn’t feel it was as integral to the story as the supernatural elements of some of Ness’ other books. I suspect that I will enjoy it more on a second reading reading when I am in less of a hurry to follow Adam’s story.
Release captures the duality of teenage life where the immediate takes on a vivid, all consuming importance alongside a peripheral awareness that things can and will change and move on. It deals with difficult issues such as discrimination and harassment but also the joy of strong friendships. It also explores the lasting impact (good and bad) of first love, how it reverberates in subsequent relationships and the importance of being kind to yourself.
Ness acknowledges the debt the book owes to Judy Blume’s Forever, published in 1975 honest and open novel about teenage (hetero)sexuality. Release portrays young gay sex in a similarly non-judgemental way and as a normal part of teenage life. It is explicit without being graphic, although I suspect as with Forever it will mean that teachers and librarians are cautious about recommending it. Hopefully, as with Forever, it will nonetheless be circulated by teens that will benefit from its warmth and optimism.