Illicit Affairs

It’s been awhile since I’ve read a young adult novel, and it’s certainly been awhile since I read one that I enjoyed as much as I did Patrick Ness’ Release.

The other day when I finally finished writing and published my blog about writing queer young adult fiction, I reread the articles I linked to in the piece–the ones that triggered me writing it in the first place–and discovered that one of the books considered “problematic” for its depiction of gay teen sexuality was Release by Patrick Ness. I looked it up, and discovered I had already purchased it back when I was originally writing the entry, shelved it, and forgotten about it. It was right there on the top of the first bookcase I went looking for it in, and I took that as a sign that I should go ahead and read it.

I’m really, really glad I decided to go ahead and finish those pending draft entries, because that led me to reading this delightful book.

Adam would have to get the flowers himself.

His mom had enough to do, she said; she needed them this morning, pretty much right now if the day wasn’t going to be a total loss; and in the end, Adam’s attendance at this little “get-together” with his friends tonight may or may not hinge on his willingness/success in picking up the flowers and doing so without complaint.

Adam argued–quite well, he thought, without showing any overt anger–that his older brother, Marty, was the one who’d run over the old flowers; that he, Adam, also had a ton of things to do today; and the new chrysanthemums for the front path weren’t exactly high in the logical criteria for attendance at a get-together he’d already bargained for–because nothing was free with his parents, not ever–by chopping all the winter’s firewood before even the end of August. Nevertheless, she had, in that way of hers, turned it into a decree: he would get the flowers or he wouldn’t go tonight, especially after that girl got killed.

“Your choice,” his mom said, not even looking at him.

Release was, for me, kind of a revelation, and what more can anyone ask for from a novel?

As I mentioned the other day, one of the primary issues I’ve faced–and worried about–in writing queer young adult fiction is the issue of sex and sexuality; times have changed in many (and better) ways since I was a terrified teenager deep in my closet and afraid someone, anyone, might find out my actual truth. There’s also the endlessly cliched trope of the coming out story; there have been many of those stories written and published; what else can you do that’s fresh and new? The trope of the deeply religious parents and their inability to accept and love their child has been done plenty of times; to the point where I’ve really not ever wanted to go near it. Release is yet another one of those, but it’s actually done so well it seems fresh and new; Adam’s dad is an evangelical pastor at a wannabe megachurch, but their church exists in the shadows of a much more successful local one, and so Adam’s family is a bit cash-strapped, particularly since his mother lost her job.

But the most refreshing part of the story is that Adam actually not only thinks about sex, he actually has it. He is currently on his fourth (secret) boyfriend, one of the only out kids at his high school, and still mooning over Enzo, with whom he was involved for fourteen months and then was transitioned into the “friend zone”–while Enzo moved on and went back to dating girls. He still has unresolved feelings for Enzo–what teenager hasn’t been dumped by someone they still love?–that interfere with, and complicate, his relationship with Linus, who actually does love Adam. The “get-together” that night is Enzo’s going away party; he and his family are moving to Atlanta, and this will be the last time Adam will ever see him. It’s teen melodrama, worthy of Gossip Girl or any number of teenage melodramas, but it’s done so well and Ness makes Adam so likable and relatable, you can’t help but root for him to figure it all out and not mess it up.

There’s also an absolutely lovely sex scene between the two of them–Adam and Linus–that, while undoubtedly making certain people uncomfortable (Oh no! Two gay boys in bed together! HAVING THE GAY BUTTSEX!!!!) is actually neither explicit nor graphic, and says a lot by saying very little; which also made me realize that yes, indeed, Greg, there’s a way to write sex scenes so that they are expressions of desire and need, yes, but also of emotion and love. (Mine–when I used to write erotica–were athletic and nasty and passionate.)

I highly enjoyed this book, and while there is a weird subplot story going on at the same time as Adam’s story–one that never really is explained the hows and whys of, or of how these supernatural creatures are somehow connected to Adam–it’s not jarringly off-track, even though possibly unnecessary or connected.

It’s a terrific book. I will definitely read more of Mr. Ness’ work.

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