Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Release Book Poster Image
Dose of fantasy adds to thoughtful coming-of-age tale.

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Kids say

age 15+
Based on 3 reviews

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Some cultural insight into small-town life in the Pacific Northwest. May inspire empathy for the difficulties that gay teens growing up in conservative families face.

Positive Messages

If something's tying you down or holding you back, change it, or change how you react to it or interact with it. Sometimes the smallest, simplest things turn out to change fate, or completely change the direction of your life. No matter who or what you are, you deserve to be loved.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Adam chafes under his parents' super-strict rules, even though they don't apply them fairly to both him and his brother. But he tolerates the situation while he looks forward to being able to go away to college. He works hard to help the family financially. He doesn't think he deserves love or affection, so he has trouble with romantic relationships. Best friend Angela is loyal and supportive, and has liberal parents who also provide a safe haven for Adam. His parents are extremely strict and in denial about Adam's homosexuality, unable to come to terms with who he really is and what his character strengths are.


A fantasy creature uses mystical power to break down doors and walls, kill and injure people by throwing them great distances, decapitate people, rip throats, and tear limbs. Flow of blood mentioned once. All injuries are magically repaired and the pain removed from all victims' minds but one. In the real world, a recent murder is mentioned a few times along with the smell and tang of blood. The fantasy element includes eerie atmospheres and intense, otherworldly powers. A detailed passage describes sexual harassment in the workplace, and a conversation about it later brings up victim-blaming issues.


Never gratuitous or explicit, sex with a couple of different same-sex and one opposite-sex sets of partners is described, mentioning some specifics like body positions, penetration, ejaculation, and erections. A penis is compared to a mushroom. Mention that sex the first time is painful. A past painful experience remembered. Kissing, caressing, "hand jobs," attractive butts, and comparing sex with different partners. Access to condoms means no STDs and no unwanted pregnancy. A college girl in an unmarried couple gets pregnant; the couple says abortion is not an option and decides to get married. Teens talk about virginity, the first time, and whether there are degrees of losing virginity. Some talk about gender fluidity and wanting to kiss both boys and girls. Brief sexual innuendo. A mom talks to 10-year-olds about the night her brother probably got his wife pregnant with their cousin.


"S--t," "f--k," "a--hole," "pr--k," "butt," and "d--khead." Calling someone a slut mentioned.


A Care Bear, Denny's.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens have beer at a party. A past party with beer mentioned. An old man recommends lots of whisky for a broken heart. A teen looks forward to drinking at a party. A murder victim and the murderer were meth addicts. Someone's asked about being on meth. A pile of discarded hypodermic needles. A mom talks to 10-year-olds about pot at a laser show. Junkies, syringes, illegal pot fields, and shooting up meth mentioned.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Release is a coming-of-age story about a gay high school senior growing up in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. How and whether to come out to his evangelical Christian parents is a strong theme. His best friend and most of the kids at his school know and don't make an issue about it. Teens talk about sex and sexuality a lot and tell of two or three instances of having sex, both homosexual and heterosexual, with some details like mentioning penetration and ejaculation, but without being gratuitous or explicit. A spirit-world fantasy element has some violence, like using magical power to decapitate or tear limbs off. Victims are all magically healed. Real-world violence includes a strangulation described in some detail. Strong language now and then includes "s--t" and "f--k," and there's some name-calling, including "p---y" and "pr--k." An important plot element involves a couple addicted to meth. Shooting up meth, junkies, syringes, and illegal pot fields are mentioned. Teens drink beer at a party, but not to excess.

User Reviews

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Teen, 13 years old Written byMiss.abibliophobia March 10, 2021

Hmm how very nice!

Yowza! ‘0_0’

This was a really fun book to read....
in a day!
It was .... plotless ..... in the best way possible,
because the entire book is set in one day... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byCate x March 9, 2019

What's the story?

In RELEASE, high school senior Adam is looking forward to tonight's party, a going-away for his ex, Enzo. Adam still carries a torch for Enzo even though he's now seeing Linus, who's a much better boyfriend than Enzo ever was. Adam knows he's lucky that his super-strict, ultra-conservative parents are letting him go, and at least his best friend, Angela, will be there, too. As the day progresses, life-changing crises and memories of the past collide. Adam has a lot he needs to let go of, but will doing that bring the freedom he longs for? And that's all before he meets the ghost of a classmate who was recently murdered.

Is it any good?

Veteran author Patrick Ness gives us a thought-provoking blend of a life-changing day for relatable teen Adam with the eerie, intriguing story of a murder victim's ghost seeking answers. Teens will relate to Adam as he longs for Release from his super-strict parents' rules and from his frustration at having to hide an important part of who he is from them. They'll also relate to his struggles as one by one, the ties that bind him to the life he's always known come undone.

Release is best for readers who enjoy ghostly, spirit-world fantasy, too, because there's a strong dose of that interwoven into the story of a day in Adam's life. Readers who prefer to stay grounded in reality may not enjoy the fantasy interruptions as the story goes back and forth between the two elements. But for those who can go along for the ride, it'll provide a lot of food for thought about life, letting go, and how the littlest things sometimes turn out to make the biggest differences.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how sex is portrayed in Release. Does it seem realistic? Does it tell you about the characters or advance the plot? How much is too much in books, movies, and TV?

  • Do you react differently to fantasy violence than you do to real-world violence? Is reading about it different from seeing it on a screen? How?

  • Methamphetamine is a real problem in Adam's small town. Does your community have a drug problem? How does it affect your community, and what can you do about it?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age tales and LGBTQ stories

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