Patrick Ness’s latest novel, Release, is deceptively simple and elegantly told. It’s a stunningly powerful story following one day in the life of a teen struggling to make sense of who he is, his place in the world, and the loss of people who love him. But it’s so much more than that.
There will be no spoilers here, but suffice it to say this is a beautiful, haunting follow-up to The Rest of Us Just Live Here. Though there’s no narrative connection beyond that gorgeous Pacific Northwest setting, Release‘s Adam is, like Mikey in The Rest of Us, his own chosen one, as we all hope to be in our own lives. (And, if we’re lucky, in the lives of others, too—a point Ness makes lyrically and heartbreakingly throughout).
Release is a sensitively drawn portrait of a mind, heart, and soul in crisis, and there’s a wonderful effortlessness to the narrative (despite its ability to crush your soul). Adam moves through a seemingly mundane day spent dreading that evening’s going away party for Enzo, the boy who broke his heart, and dealing with his creepy boss, new boyfriend Linus, supportive best friend Angela, and brutal, messed-up preacher father, along with the rest of his church-running family. To put it mildly, they are not on board with who Adam is.
While Release is inspired in part by Virginia Woolf’s virtuoso “one-day” novel Mrs. Dalloway, as well as Judy Blume’s Forever, its very much its own unique beast. A Ness novel through and through, it features an unforcedly diverse cast, an unerring look at the human heart, writing that’s clear-eyed and poetic, a narrative that on the surface appears “everyday” but is really thunderous and propulsive, a wry sense of humor that often cuts deep, and some nice trees.
Ness also continues what he’s been brilliantly since The Knife of Never Letting Go: harnessing the power of supernatural genre elements and blending them seamlessly with the contemporary world. In Release, that comes in the form of the ghost of a murdered girl from Adam’s school, inhabited by a supernatural power and pursued by a terrifying faun. Her story is told in dreamlike interstitials among Adam’s own. It’s a tense, emotionally complex journey, a powerhouse of a ticking-clock tale that could stand on its own as a supernatural narrative. Here, however, it serves as a powerful harmonic counterpoint to Adam’s own gripping story.
This might be Ness’s most brilliantly composed novel yet. The way he uses words is precise and elemental, intimating a shadow world beneath the surface-level genius at work, a world that’s equally powerful and atmospheric and is all there in the writing. It makes you feel like you’re being Inception-ed; the sensation of falling into a dream within a dream within a dream is a heady one.
This novel is about, among other things, the release that comes with accepting yourself and your personal world: that moment when you truly own who you are and roll with it, when you realize you are capable of anything. Because, as Ness puts it early in the novel, “In some universes, we’re all Beyoncé.”
Release hits shelves September 19, and is available for pre-order now.