Cover Image: Surrender Your Sons

Surrender Your Sons

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The concept of this book sounds so good: A group of kidnapped queer kids/young adults are sailed off to a secluded island where they're forced to join a conversion therapy camp led by homophobic people. Doesn't that sound like a unique read? It certainly does! This book did not disappoint me but I also have to add that it contained some flaws too. 

What I liked
The concept (ofcourse), the representation of LGBTQIA, and the characters! The main character, Connor, is really funny even though his life is not the easiest. He has an extremely homophobic mother, an absent father, and a boyfriend who does not understand him. The other characters were amazing too though, like Molly with her badass personality. Lastly, the book has a very heavy subject but I do think that Connor's personality made the book lighter to read. I really like that Sass wrote a book with such a heavy subject but accomplished to present it in a way that does not make it heavy to read.

What I disliked
Sadly, I did not like everything about the book. First of all, I did not really like the time frame in which the book took place. It was so short that it did not seem very realistic to me. There happened a lot of things in only one day which did not make sense in my head. A longer time frame would have prevented insta-love and insta-friendship for example. Secondly, the plot twist did not impress me that much. It is not that I already saw it coming, I just was more interested in the campers their plan (sorry for being vague but I don't want to spoil anything). 

All in all, I really did enjoy this read and it is honestly one of my most unique reads of the year! 
Thank you to NetGalley North Star Editions for providing me with an e-arc in exchange for an honest review.
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Ever since I finished this book, I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. Its so emotional and I managed to get attached to every character which is rare for me to be able to do with a standalone novel. This book had me on the edge of my seat the whole way through, and the plot twists were amazing and left me in shock. Also, I need to give major props to Adam Sass for how he handled his trans character. He managed to write a book about conversion therapy without ever misgendering the trans character or needing to give him a deadname. Cis writers: this is how its done.
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This was quite a heavy book to get through, dealing with the topic of conversion therapy. I thought the story was great (even though the book was a bit too long) and well written.
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Full review available on my blog on October 15th.

tw: conversion therapy, suicide and self harm, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, psychological torture, parental abuse, kidnapping, non-explicit sex between teenagers, coercive control - relationship presented as consensual, violence, gore, discussion of hate crimes, hate crime leading to disability, death. 

This book is definitely going to stick with me. It's an intense, heavy story, but one that I read in a few hours because I couldn't put it down for a single second. Despite the fact that, by its very nature, this book is heavily focused on queer trauma and pain, it didn't feel like trauma porn at all. Instead it felt like a relevant and honest telling of the realities for some queer kids - despite how lots of people like to think that that's all in the past. I was sucked into this book immediately and I swear I *blinked* and it was four hours later and I was finished with it. I've ended up writing my review right away, because I'm just full of raw emotion after that beautiful ending. And despite the fact that it is very heavy, it definitely has a hopeful ending. It's not that everything is perfect, and that's no surprise considering the kind of trauma all of the kids go through, but instead that there's a life past what they suffered. They'll survive and they'll move on, and I know I'm going to hold hope in my heart for all of them for a long time.

I love Connor. I love, love, love him. He's a mess, yeah, but he's a teenage boy going through actual hell. I'd be suspicious if he wasn't a mess. He's funny and loyal, and dedicated to those he cares about. It makes him extremely likeable, along with a cast of characters that I absolutely adored (though not you, Ario, dickhead). I also really liked the antagonists of this book. Well. 'Liked'. They're horrible people, doing horrible things, but the way their motivations unfold is fascinating to read and makes some *really* interesting points about lifelong trauma. The pacing is absolutely perfect, and I found myself paging through this faster than even I thought I could read. I think I'll definitely reread this one in a few months, because I'm sure there's much more to see when I'm not utterly gripped by the fear of what was going to happen next.

I really liked that Surrender Your Sons addressed the idea that coming out can be a fix-all solution. I think that that's a super important thing for queer teenagers to see. Coming out *is* a really brave thing to do, but when that's the only thing that queer teens see, I worry that they get the message that they're cowardly for staying in the closet. That's not true and sometimes staying in the closet for your own safety is the bravest thing you can do. It doesn't mean things won't be better later, or that you don't deserve to be part of the queer community. At the end of the day it's your decision to come out or not, and 'queer pride' will be waiting when you're ready. I think a lot of the messages in Surrender Your Sons will be so important for teens to see. I'm 23 and I still feel like it taught me things, I kind of wish I'd read a book like this when I was young.
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This book was a standout TOP 3 book for my 2020 reading - I was lucky enough to receive an ARC copy for review. I ended up reading it in one night, devouring each chapter one after another because the brilliant pacing of the story itself. The story focuses on Connor and his comrades struggling at Camp Nightlight. The story was laced with humour, intensity, sadness, love, and realistic depictions of the struggles that individuals within the LGBTQ+ community face daily. A standout point that was touched on in the book was how at Camp Nightlight the “counsellors” treated the campers who showed any signs of attraction to the same sex / campers not being in-line with their gender roles ie. masculine enough / feminine enough - it was a staggering reflection of the side society that still exists today. 

As a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community we know it all too well, that even without thinking we adapt - dependent on the situation of how we “should be acting” to not be ridiculed / ostracized, this was demonstrated just with the characters knowing that even a slight touch / holding hands / a sign of empathy that could be misconstrued as “beyond the norm” or what is deemed acceptable. The hatred that these kids face was a direct representation of what happens everyday, all of it is rooted in fear - the fear of judgement, the fear of not conforming, the fear of loss - homophobia is easy to understand, but so much harder to eradicate because of its layered constructs within a patriarchal society.   

This book is needed now more than ever in 2020, a book for youths, parents, anyone struggling with accepting their sexuality - the characters are strong, fierce, independent, and filled with empathy. Sass created such a wonderful richly layered world for the characters to exist in - to struggle in - to find their voices in banding together and eventually lighting their own way - a nightlight doesn’t always lead the way.
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Today author Adam Sass tweeted : "After 7 years, 12 revisions from scratch, and 110 rejections, Surrender Your Sons has arrived."  

After reading this book, in a strange way I could understand the rejections. This is a difficult book to embrace at the start.  It is daunting to dive into what looks to be a heartbreaking tale of children forced into gay conversion therapy.  But .... here's the thing. There's just something about Adam Sass' book that is equal parts unspeakably sad, affirming and resilient, uplifting and bizarrely humorous at times.  

Connor Major comes out to his uber-religious mother, at the insistance of his boyfriend, who assures him that he's feel so much better out of the closet. Except, when Connor is kidnapped in the middle of the night and taken to an island 2 hours from Costa Rica, it is because his own mother has paid for him to go through a gay conversion program there with Nightlight Ministries. Their tagline is "Surrounder your sins" and life on the island involves pretend date nights with members of the opposite sex, writing daily in an expulsion diary, never touching another boy with your hands, and any number of petty rules and regulations, as well as the constant threat of much worse "discipline."

Head mistress "Miss Manners" Ramona is the perfect symbol of the camp.  She wears a bright lemon yellow dress (think 50's housewife) ... with the filthy blackened hem. What occurs at Nightlight is the dirty underbelly of the Christian edict to "love the sinner, hate the sin." I don't want to spoil the intricate plot, but Sass blends a rich tapestry of the campers - sweet Marcos, Molly, tiny little Owen, the dainty-wristed Beginner boys - Ben Briggs, former camper and now employee, the Reverend Stanley Packard, Karaoke Bill, with the lingering mystery of Ricky Hannigan. Add in a strong vibe of "Lord of the Flies" and the book grabs your interest and does not let go.

Probably my only niggle was that all the action of the book takes place in an incredibly fast-paced 48 hours, but the rich character development, the heartbreaking reveal, the courage and resilience of the campers is so well-done.  5 stars and a Recommended Read.
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I'm just a big ball of emotions right now. It's been a long time since I stayed up this late to finish a book. And I don’t regret it for a minute.

Surrender Your Sons is a punch to your gut. It hooked me from the beginning, and actually hasn’t let me go yet. There were times it was extremely difficult going, as it deals with some very heavy issues (please read the Author’s Note if you’re worried). Parts of it were truly heartbreaking, and I tear up just thinking about it. But then there were these moments of sweetness and light that had my heart swelling with giddiness. This book won’t be for everyone, but I think everyone should read it. It’s hard to image there are places like Nightlife Ministries out there, but sadly I’m sure there are, and worse. And it’s even more devastating to know that there are parents like Connor’s, willing to send their children to these hellish places, hoping it will change them- when they are perfect just as they are.
 
Thrilling, haunting, heart-wrenching yet hopeful, Surrender Your Sons has left a lasting imprint on me. I don’t know why I have such a hard time when it comes to writing reviews for books that really impact me, but such is the case with SYS. I have all these thoughts running through my head, but they’d never transfer to words the way I’d hope. So I’ll just end with this- read this book, please!
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This is an extremely important topic. It really is. And the author is clearly a good writer, handling descriptions very well; I felt like I was on the island with Connor and the other kids. I was afraid of the Reverend, I felt sorry for Bill during that one scene...you know the one if you've read it, that was just cruel.

But the pacing was all off, and Connor was completely unfaithful to his boyfriend. He tries to justify it later by saying that he was only in love with what the boyfriend represented, but still. In less than a day, under extremely fraught circumstances, Connor is declaring unending love for another camper.

If things had taken place over a slightly longer time period...a week, even, instead of the day shown here; if Connor had failed his initial review and then decided to take everything apart...I might have found it easier to swallow. But instead, campers who have been there for months or years are suddenly handing over secrets they've been keeping all that time, to a camper who just arrived and who, for all they know, is a plant put there by the Reverend. That and some very squicky abuses of power mean that this will not be one of my top books, sadly.

I genuinely do think the topic is important, and the author has a good handle on descriptions and characters. The story just lets it all down.
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So I requested this off NetGalley ages ago and have only now been able to read it. I have two points: one I can’t believe it took me so long to get to this amazing book and two, I don’t think I actually read the summary properly before getting hella excited about it because I had forgotten, or just plain didn’t realise, that this was a ya thriller. 
I don’t read many thrillers so I think those who are seasoned thriller readers, and read a lot of adult thrillers, might say that the twists and reveals are predictable but honestly I didn’t see most of them coming, some however were rather predictable just as a warning if you hate guessing the reveals! 
I would say to mind the trigger warnings and read the authors note at the start! I thought it was really important for it to be there and was a very nice thought from the author to include it.
I will say that while I loved the main characters, relationships  and the plot I do wish it had been longer, and more fleshed out. I think if we had more time, and the events were stretched out over a period of time, we would have gotten more character development and the relationships and bonds would have made more sense and been more impactful. I think it would have added a creepier element and given more time to see the antagonists as unhinged etc. 
in saying that though I did really enjoy myself while reading this and was so enthralled I read it all in one sitting. I would highly recommend!
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This is a must read, a very powerful and moving book. Connor is a very relatable and three dimensional character that you will love, root for, cry for, basically go through your whole emotional range reading this book, the conversion therapy camp is just as you’d imagine an awful place full of homophobic right wing bigots, but I love this is about empowerment, there are twists you won’t see coming and I loved the feeling of power you get from this book, the hope that fills its pages. It is a must read and one of my favourite reads this year.  

Trigger warning for homophobia, abuse, violence , racism, suicide, alcoholism, transphobia 


Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for a free copy for an honest opinion
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The heart of this book is lovely: Connor is a young man figuring out who he is; he feels afraid of the consequences of coming out; he's looking for love; and he's discovering inner bravery and emotional vulnerability, which will allow him to live honestly and fully.

Connor's SAT scores stink, his best friend is pregnant and everyone seems to think he's the father of the baby, he's trying to find his way in his first relationship, and he came out to his homophobic mom, so now he's grounded. But things are going to get much worse: he's about to be kidnapped and taken out of the country to Nightlight, a secret conversion camp for homosexual minors, because of his mother's rigid religious beliefs and her blind faith in the Reverend and his thinking. 

Adam Sass's beautifully heartfelt Acknowledgments mention that the essence of his story remained intact through years and "a million" versions (including a fantasy version--which I'm intrigued by--as well as one set in England and other versions geared toward adult audiences) before he landed on a young adult approach. It seems as though Sass feels deeply about the character of Connor. And I wanted to dive into this story. But I was challenged by frequent issues with story elements, tone shifts and uneven pacing, and character choices that didn't seem to fit. These ranged from details that didn't mesh to what felt like large, irrational leaps in logic, sometimes within the same paragraph. 

Why would Ricky send a cryptic, desperate, last-minute warning but not have tried to communicate anything to Connor in months of exchanges? (We see Ricky recognize the Reverend's likely intent of spiriting off Connor to Nightlight at the diner when Ricky and Connor first meet.) Why would the Reverend actively put Connor and Ricky together at all, if Ricky has made the life choices he has (which are presented as abhorrent to the Reverend)--but even more importantly, why would he link them if Ricky clearly has dangerous knowledge of Nightlight and the troublesome goings-on that occurred in his life after his own stint there? The Reverend is ready to literally kill in order to preserve the details of that information from becoming known.  

Minor things stopped me so often that I stopped making note of them, but a few issues that didn't feel like they worked, even within the disturbingly irrational setting: Why would the kids be made to shower with carefully hoarded rainwater and immediately afterward go on a long forced run? Why would they hold their hands over their hearts (as though saying the Pledge of Allegiance) during a sung blessing? Connor is able to keep a thick, bulky Playbill folded and hidden in the pocket of his short shorts at breakfast? In a life-and-death moment, the kids laugh and try to insult the woman who is threatening them and possibly about kill them? And the repeated use of I instead of me is a copyediting-level issue, but it stopped me every time I saw it.

Connor's grasp of his mother’s involvement in shipping him off seems confused to an unlikely extent. Could he realistically have the emotional ability that we're told he possesses immediately after his kidnapping to anticipate that he and his mom (who sanctioned and paid for this kidnapping to another country and the ensuing brutal attempts at scrubbing his homosexuality) would eventually be close again, so that he would want to hurry and get home to her to bandage their relationship? He’s a teen with the potential for having a temper, and I would expect some measure of rage from anyone at the injustice of his situation, the time she's robbing him of (he is expected to stay for months), and her horrifying neglect—she has no idea what these people might do to him and has placed him in grave danger. It would be easy to imagine that as a kidnapped teen who has demonstrated a rebellious streak and an increasingly strong sense of self, he might imagine in these moments that he is through with her--even if he might feel compassion for her ignorance later, and even if it's more difficult to cut the cord on their relationship when (if) he returns.

Some aspects of Surrender Your Sons feel deeply real and intimate: the fumbling scenes with Ario, the growing affection for Marcos, the other friendships powerfully forged during trauma and danger, and the ultimate emergence of the Nightlight BBs as wonderfully flamboyant characters living true lives. But I couldn't get past the confusing elements.  

I received a prepublication copy of Surrender Your Sons through NetGalley and Flux.

I mentioned this book and its captivating premise in Three Wackily Different Books I'm Reading Right Now, 9/12/20 Edition.
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ARC provided by North Star Editions via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Trigger Warnings: death, queerphobia, suicide, violence, cultism.

Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass is a gut punch of a book. It evoked quite a few strong sentiments in me: anxiety, sorrow, anger to name a few. It left a sour taste in my mouth. It’s an emotional, challenging book that needs the reader to be ready to take it head on.

Connor is a dynamic narrator, one you get easily attached to. And the rest of the crew is just as impressive and strong. Even if this novel is fictional, real cases of similar stories exist. Conversion therapy is not a long-lost practice. It is still a reality in many places. There are people who hate and hurt queer folks just for the taste of it.

As much as I hated the obvious villains in the story, there’s one character that irked me so markedly, namely Ario. I don’t know if I can even define it a trope, but I really hate when characters are forced into coming out because they fear losing their current partner. “And the prize for WORST BOYFRIEND EVER goes to… Ario!”  No one has the right to decide when another person comes out other than that person! I already hate the fact that queer people have to come out in the first place. “Why is straight the default? Everyone should have to declare one way or another, and it shouldn't be this big awkward thing whether you're straight, gay, bi, or whatever. I'm just saying.” Becky Albertalli said it perfectly. 

I’m not the best reviewer and there are far better analyses of this novel out there. Still, I gave my two cents and I ask for people to read this book. It’s a must-read.
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⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
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Brutal, but entertaining. Horrific, yet hopeful. Literature in the form of a throat-punch. Surrender Your Sons left me breathless!
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Synopsis: Connor Major has recently come out as gay to his mother. Rather than being supportive or accepting, she has him kidnapped in the middle of the night and sent to a conversion camp. Nightlight Ministries is a place of nightmares. Connor and the other campers must attempt to escape, but not everyone will make it out alive.
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SYS is a poster child for trigger warnings, please do your research before picking up this book. Some triggers are: religious extremists, assault, death, etc. This story is graphic, but fulfilling. There is no violence for shock value.
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This has the ‘Lord of the Flies’ atmosphere that I live for! Survive, return home, or die trying! 
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As a straight women, I can’t imagine the nightmarish scenario of being shipped off to a conversion camp to “pray the gay away”. But for many, this was an actual living nightmare. These places existed (and still do), and caused severe trauma to the “campers”.
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I think Adam Sass handled this story/topic with grace. I would recommend to readers who have thicker skin and are looking for a dark, twisted and heart pounding story to read this fall.
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Thank you NetGally and Flux for providing me with an E-ARC in exchange for an honest review. Release date is September 15th, 2020! Get your copy!!
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CWs: Murder, suicide, allusions to suicide ideation, homophobia, religious fanaticism, use of homophobic slurs, descriptions of physical punishment, allusions to deadnaming and misgendering, instances of abduction

Let me start by saying this: Surrender Your Sons is a story that, yes, explores and confronts queer pain out of necessity, but it is not a story without hope.

Surrender Your Sons is a powerful, enthralling story of survival. I would compare the tone and feeling of the story to that of The Promised Neverland in that there's a constant, unrelenting sense of danger and the characters are trapped in a place where almost everyone is deeply corrupted. The fast pace of the story will leave you guessing and dreading whatever comes next.

I appreciate the way the story confronts the harmful effects of conversion therapy and religious fanaticism on the queer community, which are all too real. If a story like this were to gloss over those issues, it would not be a truthful reflection of the horrors queer youth are expected to navigate in this world. While acceptance and support are very much possible outcomes for those who are out, it is not guaranteed; for many queer folks, coming out is very much unsafe, and this story explores that inherent danger and heightens it.

Part of the tension the audience may feel while reading this book comes from the way the story structure itself emulates the uncertainty and fear many queer people experience on a day-to-day basis as they navigate trying to gauge which spaces are safe and which are not. But seeing Connor fight his way through it and refuse to succumb to that terror is extremely cathartic. There's also a surprising amount of humor and heart for a story so deeply twisted, and I think that also plays a big role in keeping the story from feeling hopeless.

I think what's so powerful about Surrender Your Sons is that, ultimately, it's about Connor and his fellow Nightlighters reclaiming their power and agency from those who have so violently tried to strip it away. Connor is not the type of person to wait for someone to care about him or notice that he needs help; in this particular situation, waiting for someone else to help could result in your own death. He and the rest of the kidnapped teens have to make a plan, fend for themselves, and fight for their lives in the most realistic sense. With every battle, every pitfall, every obstacle, these teens are declaring their right to live and exist, which is what makes it such a compelling journey.

There's also a really great mystery element that drives the story forward. It's not just that Connor was sent to Nightlight because he's queer and that queerness must "be expelled by force," but because something even more sinister is happening beneath the surface that only he can figure out. That element also helps alleviate some of the darkness in the book, because the story is never about suffering for suffering's sake; there's a concrete mystery Connor is trying to uncover and understand, which gives the reader something else to focus on and heightens the stakes even more.

My only issue with the story, personally, is the condensed timeline. On the one hand, I think having such a condensed timeline is what brings the story a sense of urgency, ups the ante, and really contributes to that fast narrative pace. But on the other hand, it took me a little bit out of the story, because I could only keep thinking about how Connor had only been on the island for a little over a day while some of the other Nightlighters had been there for months or even years without being able to break free. While Connor's tenacity and willingness to take risks is a big part of why they're able to fight back for the first time, I felt like the pay off could've been even greater if Connor had spent even just a couple more days going through his plan. Even so, I still really appreciated the endgame this story was working towards.

Again, this book is not going to be for every reader, and that's okay. The story may be incredibly triggering for some readers—especially queer readers—and that's valid given the content of this book. That said, if you are able to get through it, the payoff is incredibly powerful and I think the story has so many important things to say about how queer youth survive pain and trauma: with community, hope, love, and maybe just a little bit of spite.
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okay, this was extremely hard to put down. It's gripping, it's terrifying, and it's so very relatable. trigger warnings below.

First, I fell into this book from the first frigid interaction between Connor and his mom. The way Connor is treated, his nearly forced coming out, his internalized homophobia, and stubborn refusal to surrender. It's heartbreaking, and utterly gripping.

Connor is shipped off to conversion therapy, and it's a nightmare. And while it is awful in the way one can expect from conversion therapy, there's also wry humor, sparkling romance, warm friendships, and a thrilling mystery.

i seriously want to wrap this entire group of kids in my arms and tell them it will be alright. You will survive. Homophobia doesn't win. You're strong and brave and entirely deserving of love and being yourself.

Anyway, this book hit me hard in the gut. It reminded me of harsh conversations with people in my life about my sexuality, my own fear and experience with conversion therapy and religious fanaticism, and the utter desperate desire to be free.

Also, no spoilers, but while Surrender Your Sons has DARK moments, this book is not just a hard thriller. There are shining times of Queer Joy and survival. Basically, the bad guys don't win all the time and I needed that hope for this story.

Trigger warnings for homophobia, abuse, suicide, religious trauma, violence, transphobia and conversion therapy.
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raw, emotional and deeply relevant, Surrender Your Sons is a book you do not want to miss out on. 

scrolling through netgalley one day, I stumbled upon this book and clicked the elusive 'wish for it' button, promptly forgetting about it. Flash forward and 'the publisher has granted your wish' appeared in my inbox. You have no idea about the rush of adrenaline that phrase gives me. I hadn't heard a single person talking about it, which in itself is a travesty. So I decided to go into it blind and see where the experience took me. And let me tell you, it was certainly an experience. 

I would actually recommend not knowing too much about it before diving in, as to not spoil a single one of the twists and turns this roller coaster of a book takes you on. The bare bones premise is that a queer teenage boy is one day whisked away to 'Nightlight', a convention therapy camp by his religious zealot mother until he becomes 'normal'. Things are even more sinister than first appear and Connor devises a plan to not only escape, but take the camp down. I won't tell you anything more than that- if you want to know, you should read it instead *nudge nudge*. 

I knew I would love this book before I even read the first page. The authors note that prefaces the book had me emotional before I even began. 

"It's not about queer pain. It's about what queers do with pain. Queer pain is something we've seen either too much of in media or bungled in some way... I promise you, the reader: in the pages of Surrender Your Sons, there's light in the dark. You'll find scary things in this book, but just like in life, when the trouble hits, you'll also find humour, good friends, and courage you couldn't imagine in your wildest dreams" 

What was contained within the pages of the actual story similarly had me in various states of emotion. I felt everything from disgust to anger to devastation to hope. Surrender Your Sons may not be easy to read, but it is similarly not easy to forget. I felt ashamed of ignorance regarding the current state of conversion camps in the world. It is easy to think that they are something of the past, overcome by this age of acceptance. But that is simply not true and to believe so, is to deny the pain of the hundreds of thousands of people who have been forced to 'fix themselves'. It is horrifying, but it is reality. 

But this book is not just about bringing awareness to these difficult truths. It is funny, filled with loveable characters and an adorable blossoming romance.

I did have some slight issues with aspects of the story, including the unbelievable time period it takes place over, and some odd choices that verge on being problematic. This is a spoiler, but it is quite clear from the beginning that this would happen. I want to mention it because I have read some reviews of people being unaware of this element and not liking the book as a result. It didn't bother me at all, but I know many people have an issue with this: (view spoiler)

I would recommend this book to almost everyone. Almost. If you feel you could be triggered by some of the content in the book, I would urge you to wait until a better time to pick it up. Apart from that, please please read this when it comes out! I would love to see this own voices queer story getting the hype it deserves. 

Thank you to North Star Editions for this ARC

Release Date: 15 September 2020
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4 STARS


Before you begin, it's important to know this story centers queer kids in the midst of conversion therapy.


That's not to say you shouldn't read it. In fact, I'd sure as hell recommend reading something like this from an OwnVoices author like Adam Sass as opposed to an allocishet creator, because this way, you get to center the queer voices first and foremost. 

But the point remains that this is a tough story in some ways. An angry one, really. Connor Major, who just wants to be loved and accepted for who he is, has to face the reality that his mother shipped him off to conversion therapy because she can't accept it. Worse still, he has to face the pain intentionally inflicted not only on him, but the other queer kids trapped in the Nightlight Ministries camp. This isn't some cheery coming of age experience.

It's bitter and dark and asks teens, even children, to make impossible choices just to survive.

I'm certainly glad I read it when I was ready; this would have made for a tough read if my mental health hadn't been in a relatively steady place.


And yet, despite all the gloom, this isn't solely a tragedy.


In fact, this is what I admire the most about Surrender Your Sons: despite the danger and the cruelty, we have main characters who refuse to back down. When the adults in their lives hurt them instead of protect them, they take it upon themselves to change their world. Even better yet, they do it together. There is no gatekeeping, and there are no questions of "queer enough."

There's only a group of campers who know they deserve better than violence and control held over their heads, and they're going to end this together.

Really, it's an incredibly hopeful note to include in a book with such dark and upsetting elements. By working together, by listening to one another and trusting your community, there's hope for change, for something better on the other side. 

And at the end of the day? I'm such a sucker for hopeful endings. If characters can go through their own personal hell and still come out the other side looking forward the future, I get all mushy inside. What can I say? I'm just a simple sap with simple needs.


What Surrender Your Sons needed, though, was a tighter plot structure.


This is supposed to be a thriller, but at times, I found Surrender Your Sons to be almost painfully slow, even over-focused on exposition. Nearly the first third of the book felt as if it took far too long to take off and introduce the mystery elements that support the thriller elements, and sometimes, later portions of the book slid quietly back into that feeling, though not as frequently as in the beginning. 

Additionally, I sometimes felt that the major plot points detracted from Connor's struggles. Granted, Surrender Your Sons examines cycles of violence and retribution, so it's not all about Connor by any means. It looks into the ways violence is perpetuated against vulnerable queer folks now and then, here and elsewhere, and it adds a necessary depth to the book. But there are times when I felt that it didn't focus enough on the here and now of Nightlight Ministries, instead pushing too far into a past that held only partial bearing on the present.


Overall, though, this is an angry queer thriller worth a go.


Different readers are going to get different mileage out of Surrender Your Sons. Such is the truth of most books, but it's especially important here. There will be readers with a great deal in common with Connor, and others who feel for him without having experienced similar obstacles. For some folks, this may be an exceptionally triggering book, and for others, maybe not.

But the potential variety of experience, the intrinsically queer perspective, and the pulsing, persistent hope for a better future make Surrender Your Sons worth reading. It releases on September 15th, only a few days from now, and when you're ready, I recommend joining Connor on his journey toward loving and protecting himself and other queer kids like him.


CW: homophobia, transphobia, domestic abuse, gaslighting, child abuse, violence (including gun violence), sex scene, loss of a loved one, racism, suicide, alcoholism, underage drinking, smoking, gambling

[This review will go live on Hail & Well Read at 2:30pm EST on 9/11/20.]
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Boy, where to start. This book is a lot. In a good way, mostly.

The beginning was a little slow—there's a lot of build-up to leaving for Nightlight, which feels like it may have bogged the story down a little bit. There are some structural things (not going to go too in-depth on them because I don't want to give anything away) that I didn't love and that petered out toward the end of the book.

But once Connor is at Nightlight, the story kicks into high gear, and WOW. It's a wild ride.

There are a lot of characters to keep track of, and not gonna lie a few of the side characters get lost in the mix. Connor and Molly remain at the forefront of my mind and are probably my two favorite characters. I feel like this is a book that really celebrates and honors the female characters (well — most of them) because they do so much of the heavy lifting.

This book is, I think, about empowering queer teens — showing them they have the resources to fight back against the world who tries to take them down, whether that world is their own family or whether it's a crew of haters on a deserted island trying to force them out of their queerness.

One note is that this book does not shy away from dark topics. This seems obvious, I mean it's about conversion therapy, but when I say it gets dark, I mean it gets dark . Again, I don't want to delve too into it and I couldn't find a list of trigger warnings to share, but be aware that there's heartrending moments in this book that might affect you.

It's hard to say I "enjoyed" this book because it deals with such a hard, heavy topic, but Adam Sass' writing is great and he weaves a compelling tale, one that makes you root for the teenagers who've been sent to this horrible place and makes you root against the people keeping them there. And makes you want to fight against all the people propagating conversion therapy, still.
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Kids at a gay conversion camp gang up on their homophobic guards was not a book I realized I needed in my life, but this was fantastic! A very strong LGBTQA thriller.
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A few weeks after I came out to my parents, which was age wise around 24, my Mom called me to say she could have someone at my house tomorrow to help me. Specifically she was referring to Exodus international, a now defunct faith baith organization that worked to bring homosexuals out of their ‘lifestyle’. The irony was the founding members ending up falling in love. (Can’t make this stuff up!)
Suffice to say I declined, she mellowed, and now I have a gay recruitment center runout of our basement that has initiated thousands into the world of queer. 
KIDDING! 

Seriously though, having that in my background I couldn’t wait to read Adam Sass’s new book. The story centers on a teen, Connor Major being raised by a single mother who has found both solace and support from the local church and has fallen under the spell of its charismatic pastor. When young Connor comes out,  his mother arranges for Connor to be taken to what is essentially a boot camp, the kind of place you hear about for troubled teens taken against their will to straighten out, but this is to LITERALLY straighten out. But on top of figuring out how to get away from this crazy campsite, Connor is wrapped up in a bigger mystery at play that could possibly involve a murder and a coverup, which he’s determined to get to the bottom of even if it could kill him. 

This was a mixed bag for me. First, kudos to the art department for a crazy cool cover it took me a second to really see! Tonally this falls somewhere in the vein of a campy CW show, with a cast of toned hunky guys, some smart snarky lesbians and an ultra witty protagonist. 

Yet despite writing about the truly harmful effects these reparative therapies have on queer people, the not surprising reveals and witty banter diffused a lot of the impact and drama and I found myself doing a few eyes rolls. I think I was expecting something closer to Gerrard Conley’s, “Boy Erased” and less ‘But I’m A Cheerleader’. And while much of the book is certainly entertaining, overall it wasn’t quite the home  run I was expecting. The book comes out next Tuesday the 15th, and thank you to the tagged publisher and @netgalley for the advance copy. Have you read this? Planning to? And if so, what did you think? Lmk in the comments!
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