In the acknowledgements of this stunning work, arguably the most important and impressive gay teenage novel ever published in Britain, Patrick Ness cites two influences: Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume’s Forever. He utilises the structure of the former and Blume’s empathetic frankness, making both very much his own. The novel is also informed, perhaps, by elements of authorial experience: Adam Thorn, like his creator, is a gay American from an evangelical background.
The day on which the novel is set sees Adam’s supports gradually stripped away. The irrepressible and fiercely loyal Angela, whom he loves ‘with all his aching heart’, announces her departure to study abroad, while his father, even in the face of his son’s vulnerability, anguish and exploitation, cannot rise beyond the accusatory and blindly prejudicial. Only his brother, after his own spectacular fall from grace, eventually acknowledges the legitimacy of Adam’s emotions and sexual identity. Ness traces the protagonist’s maturing through beautifully realised sexual set pieces involving Enzo, to whom Adam clings long after their affair ends, and Linus, whose love acts as an antidote to Enzo’s egocentric sexual encounters that result in Adam’s pain. It is Linus, once denounced from the pulpit by Adam’s father, who teaches his lover both the mutual nature of sexual pleasure, which renders lovemaking more ‘combination’ than ‘penetration’, and that he is worth such tenderness. The proffering of Judas money finally frees the protagonist from his romantic delusions and the resultant crown of thorns, allowing reality to exert itself and a new Adam to emerge, equipped for self-determination.