Ally-Joh Gowan-Day reviews Release by Lucy Christopher – the sequel to her novel, Stolen – which picks up ten years on from the kidnapping of Kate Stone.
Ten years ago, Lucy Christopher released her debut novel Stolen, a young adult novel that follows the kidnapping of sixteen year old Gemma Toombs and the complicated relationship she develops with her kidnapper, Tyler MacFarlane. Now, ten years on from her debut novel, Christopher has written her first adult novel and a follow-up to Stolen, entitled Release. Release picks up from exactly ten years after the events of Stolen, where we see Gemma Toombs, now named Kate Stone, still struggling with Stockholm Syndrome. When she finds out her captor, Ty, is about to be released from prison after serving his ten year sentence, she ruins her potential relationship and becomes set on talking to Ty, hoping to get answers that will fix her. However, in true Christopher style, there are multiple twists and turns that’ll keep you turning the page and delaying dinner for another fifteen minutes.
Release is beautifully written, and, despite the fact that it’s a disturbing psychological thriller, blissfully easy to read; much akin to drifting away on a piece of your favourite music. The harsh, violent Australian heat drips from the pages – uncomfortable, yet warming. Although the Australian outback is, for many of us, an unfamiliar setting, Christopher conjures it vividly with the layers of dirty red sand, the strange plants and the smell of eucalyptus. Although we see snippets of Kate’s home in London, Christopher’s writing shines the most when we’re in the otherworldly setting of the Australian wilderness.
Australia is an entity of its own in Stolen, although strange, foreign and totally deserted, it is also beautiful; a land untraveled and untouched. But this changes in Release. Christopher has commented herself about the changes Australia has undergone over the past ten years, becoming more populated and developed – and also more estranged. The land depicted in Release is no longer a place where secrets and crimes can be harboured. It’s now a place with eyes, an ever changing and unforgiving landscape. What was an intimate (albeit toxic) place for Kate and Ty is being destroyed by the modern world slowly seeping in, taking over that wild land that both Ty and Kate have formed a strong relationship with.
Ty and Kate have become shells of the people they once were, tarnished with cracks, burnt and damaged, they resemble something long since lost. Ten years have passed by and Christopher offers up no resolute happiness for either character. Writing from Gemma’s (now Kate) perspective in Stolen, Christopher deftly evokes her emotional landscape – how she slowly comes round to liking Ty, who is nonviolent and gentle, despite his crime. Towards the end of Stolen, a love story begins to develop but that is not continued here. Kate and Ty’s relationship is not romanticised, it’s raw. A decade of isolation, trauma and confusion have taken their toll and all that’s left is morsels of what they used to be – now, they are driven by a sizzling hatred, hatred that has been put on to boil for ten years.
Christopher’s captivating writing style ensnares a wild imagination. Release mostly takes the form of a heartfelt, diary-type letter from Kate to Ty. As the novel goes on, it becomes clear that Kate isn’t a reliable narrator, and that we should be wary of her story:
“I’ve come to see that I’m good at imagining, good at telling stories. I like knowing all the possibilities of a tale before deciding on the version of the truth I’m going to tell.”
Christopher’s ending weaves together multiple intertwined threads. There are, naturally, many questions – did all of this really happen? Is Kate fabricating the story in a desperate attempt to reconnect with Ty? – but it seems, at least, by the end, Kate has found the ‘release’ she’s been searching for. Ultimately, Christopher shirks the possibility of a happy ending in favour of realism; after ten years in prison, Ty is no longer a happy-go-lucky drifter who dreams of living off the grid in the Australian Outback and after ten years of freedom Kate is only more confused, detached and cold. It’s a story with no obvious or satisfactory resolutions but instead a convincing dive into human psychology; confused minds, stuck in the past, a tale of misguided love and revenge.
Find out more about Release by Lucy Christopher here.