This was a story about Connor Major who has been keeping his love life a secret from his mom. There are some messy things that happened with Connor's parents, his dad is across the pond and his mother moved them to the bible belt. His mom gets this conversion therapy camp to kidnap him and hopefully convert him to being straight. Little does she know, there is more to the camp than she thinks. There is so much going on in the camp. It was a wild ride to say the least.
This book took me a little longer than expected to read but I was happy to have the chance to review it. I won't be able to add this to my shelf in my office at work, Working at a middle school I have to be careful about some of the books I add to my shelves.
🌴 𝐻𝑜𝓌 𝓃𝒾𝒸𝑒 𝑜𝒻 𝓎𝑜𝓊 𝓉𝑜 𝓋𝒾𝓈𝒾𝓉 𝓂𝑒 𝒾𝓃 𝓂𝓎 𝓁𝑜𝓃𝑒𝓁𝒾𝓃𝑒𝓈𝓈
I am starting off this review with this quote because in all honesty I just read it again after months of my first read of the book. I completed this book back in January where I was in an extremely different stage in my life (I was dating someone that cheated on me) and so I must admit that writing this review is not going to be an easy experience seeing that it brings back a lot of unwanted memories. I guess this is where I say: everything happens for a reason. You may be asking: why do I care about your past relationship Filipe? To which I answer, this is a book about queer pain, something that I had to navigate in these past few months.
This pain can come from your parents that do not accept the person you became and love you unconditonally because you are their child and that is what a parent is supposed to do but society taught them that feeling embarrased for having a gay child is more important than your sons happiness. (I would like to point out that my relationship with my parents is great at the moment, but I still dont talk about being gay with my dad, probably never will).
Conversion therapy stories always disgust me because I truly reflect and wonder how a person who should take care of you wants to do the exact opposite of that but in their mind they are doing the best for you without even paying attention to your feelings. Connor Major, our main character, was sent to a conversion therapy camp. I can't even express into words how action-packed this book is, it will *literally* leave you at the edge of your seat, as cliché as that may sound. Shortness of breath? Check. Bouncing your leg up and down? Check. Turning your page so fast it rips at the corner? I would say check but I read an e-arc.
Despite it being marketed as a thriller, this book is so much more than that. It touches on violence towards queer people and how it can affect you mentally to the point where you start to forget how you truly are. This is a twisted story that I urge everyone to read, especially this month if you like to read suspenseful books during this time of year.
Most importantly, Surrender Your Sons made me cry. And it was not a simple single tear. It was bawling my eyes out at the coffee shop to the point where I had to stop, breathe and continue my read at home. It was so important to me because it taught me and told me things I needed to hear but I had no idea of the existence of this necessity until the moment I read them. It's not about about queer pain. It's about what queers do with pain. With my pain personally I always strived to transform it into love, into self-love especifically. Every time someone made me feel bad for expressing who I am, I would express it even harder to show that I am stronger than a hateful comment or a guide on how to be myself when the only person who lives my life is me.
If I had to sum up what I thought of Surrender Your Sons in just one sentence, I would say: "mindf*ck of EPIC proportion". I love a bold plot twist and SYS had several that pulled the rug under my feet so hard I'm still shaken.
Before you even consider reading it, though, I beg you to check the TW. It's not trauma porn by any mean but it does depict a raw and dark reality for a lot of queer people out there, like verbal and physical abuse coming from many people including parents, statuatory rape, even suicide and murder. In a way, I'd say it's kind of an exact opposite of Camp, by L. C. Rosen. It's an important read, and a damn good one, but be prepared.
I wasn't expecting Ricky's story to be the main focus of the story but I'm glad it was. In a way, it pushed the conversion camp in the background by making it the setting of the story rather than the story itself, which offered a welcome distraction from the violence going on there. The mystery also happens to be flawlessly written, with bread crumbs satisfying enough to let the reader feel like they're closing in on the truth yet vague enough to not let them find out too soon. This is where the multiple plot twists do a tremendous job because we're so busy chasing false leads that we can't see the big picture before the end.
The only flaw that I could point out is that the events at the camp take about one day. That's a very small timeframe. Other than that, there was absolutely nothing I didn't like.
Basically: read it, buy it, shout about it and then read it again. 5 well-deserved stars and I'm looking forward to reading more by Adam Sass!
Adam Sass’s debut novel, a young adult queer thriller, is the perfect read for to kick off your Spook-tober. Surrender Your Sons follows Connor Major, a recently out gay teenager who is isolated in a small town in Illinois.
His only salvation from the Reverend who has taken over every inch of his tiny town, including his mother, is his boyfriend, Ario, and his weekly Meals on Wheels delivery to a disabled patient, Ricky Hannigan.
Unfortunately for Connor, his mother and the Reverend discover he uses his Meals on Wheels trips to also see his boyfriend, and put him under strict house arrest.
It’s not long after this that his mother willingly has him kidnapped and taken to a secret island in the middle of Costa Rica with the hopes that when he comes back, he’ll no longer be gay.
Even worse, Connor soon learns that the Reverend is at the center of this horrible conspiracy, his power looming even larger on the island, as Connor tries to unravel the mystery thanks to a clue from Ricky.
Conversion therapy and its many sins and cruelty are the throughline of Surrender Your Sons. Sass does a masterful job of proving that, despite the loss of focus on the topic, conversion therapy has never gone away; it’s just better at hiding itself.
With the dramatic Lost setting and Wilder Girls vibes, Surrender Your Sons threads plenty of tension and mystery on top of the devastation, making it so that readers keep turning the page, even as the realities become more gruesome.
But even though much of the queer experience for many people (both on the page and off) can be traumatic and violent, Sass also weaves in a powerful narrative of queer resilience, joy, strength, and love.
When Connor makes it onto the island, he learns he’s not the only person in his situation, eventually having to choose whether to save himself, or work with the other teens to defeat the Reverend and escape together.
This includes a blooming romance with another camper, Marcos. Unlike Ario, who pressured Connor to come out before he was ready, unwittingly putting him in danger, Marcos and Connor have matching scars.
Beyond the numerous beautiful and powerful queer themes, Surrender Your Sons is a masterful thriller and mystery, begging to be read and re-read with its numerous breadcrumbs and easter eggs and incredible supporting cast. You can get your copy today at your local library or wherever books are sold.
You know when books touch your soul? This one did. The fight Connor had. And all the highs and lows he had to deal with. It was just so real and the topics hit were so relevant and talked about with such Grace.
Def would recommend.
I don’t even know where to begin with this review - all I saw on the blurb - a YA Queer Suspense/Thriller and I was hitting the request button immediately.
But did I know that this would evoke such wide range of emotions within me while reading it - that I would be a mess after finishing the book!
Surrender Your Sons is about a young queer boy; Adam who just came out to his mom under the pressure of his boyfriend; pressure that was more about being able to enjoy their relationship out in the open than about Adam’s own personal comfort.
What doesn’t help is the fact that the only girl Adam dated, his best friend just gave birth to a baby - a baby that Adam’s mom wholeheartedly believes is her grandchild and Adam’s “rebellion” is the reason why he isn’t acknowledging the child. [Just FYI: He definitely is NOT the father of the child].
Everything comes to head, when Adam is kidnapped and taken to a “conversion” camp known as Nightlight - with his mother’s permission - because the eerie head of the Camp is none other than the Reverend, a friend of his mother’s.
Now here’s where it gets scary; confusing and at times horrifying - and I am definitely recommending that ya’ll go into the book without too much information - the experience of going into this book without a floating device is indescribable. I know because that’s what I did.
There were some issues I had with the book; and some of the issues hit my hard limits - and while it wasn’t the HEA that these wonderful characters deserved, it was a realistically content ending that I can actually come to terms with.
Surrender Your Sons will have you gasping for breath, horrified and absolutely terrified as to how it will end - and while it was a thrilling fiction, it is also quite easy to realise that it has some foundation in truth.
Sass took on a topic most would shy from, offered the LGBTQ+ rep many young adults yearn for, and showcased them both with the respect they deserve. This was a wonderful debut and I look forward to seeing what Sass will put out next.
SURRENDER YOUR SONS is an emotional, harrowing, no-punches-pulled read that drills down to the core of queer trauma and the complexities many queer kids (and adults!) face. As a queer reader, the plot drew me in and the representation kept me with it - there were elements that were personally difficult to read (such as the religious homophobia) and elements that were satisfying/comforting (the found family arc), and that is a testament to the relevance of Adam Sass’s portrayal of the queer experience. There were some plot elements towards the end that felt a little unrealistic and bordered on sensationalization to me, but overall I enjoyed both the story and the characters. I think this book will resonate with many readers, and I hope it paves the way for more and more stories like it that boldly embody queer power and queer joy as wholeheartedly as queer pain and trauma.
SURRENDER YOUR SONS was the hardest book I’ve read all year. Adam Sass wrote it beautifully, but wow, there’s some heavy material in this one, so read the content notes before you read it.
Sass did a great job capturing the fear and other emotions that come with coming out and showing that, when you don’t have a supportive family, that can mean awful and terrifying consequences. Connor faces the worst nightmare of coming out, after his mom sends him to a conversion camp on a remote Costa Rican island, he finds out secrets about his town’s reverend that lead him to work together with the other campers trapped on the island to expose him.
Connor works with the rest of the campers to bring the camp down in a series of surprising and terrible events. This book was full of twists - some more predictable than others - and the mystery of Ricky kept me going through the entire thing. I ended up devouring the book so fast because I kept needing to know more. I didn’t have many complaints - mainly just the timeline and how the story takes place over like 24 hours and some of the things that take place seem like they would take way longer to get through than that. I can follow him feeling and doing pretty much everything he did, but it just felt very quick for a short span of time.
Overall, this was a great read - captivating, high-stakes, and leaving you wanting more of it all the way to the end.
Wow, this was such a good book! It was so intense and emotional at times. I liked how it showcased so many different things. Not only how different people dealt with this uncertainty in their life of coming out in a world like we live in today, but then how some people still are easily pushed into doing what society expects. But there were some really bad people in this as well. Some evil people at the camp, and then some that were just messed up, regretted what they’d done, and maybe wanted to make up for those things, even if it was too late. And there was romance, as much as there can be in the situations they were in. I liked how the author didn’t shy away from not only the emotional and romantic parts of the main characters relationships, but we also got physical parts, like you would with a heterosexual romance without the batting of an eye. I think it is so great to be getting books like this more easily available and becoming more normal, even if like some of the characters and situations in the book itself, not everyone wants it to be that way.
I have no idea how to start this other than. this book broke me. It was so good and (obviously) so heart wrenchingly sad. I honestly couldn't read this book in public because I couldn't handle my emotions enough to keep calm. This book shows the complexities of everything and how most things aren't just black and white. You start to feel for some of the more...not good characters in certain ways. At least I did. They weren't good people. But there's a story behind a story behind someone's backstory, if that makes sense. We're a product of our upbringing. And I'm not excusing anything. Oh no, I also hate those characters with my entire being. But at a certain point, things become a cycle. And someone has to break the cycle.
Once I got to a certain point in this book (I don't even have to say which one, you'll probably just be able to tell once you read it) I couldn't stop crying. This book ended on more of a bittersweet note. There was happiness, but with the knowledge that there was lasting trauma.
Also trigger warnings because there are A LOT
TW: conversion therapy, homophobia, homophobic language and slurs, violent hate crimes, graphic violence, suicide, murder, transphobia, sexism, racism, parental abuse, self harm, panic attacks, and kidnapping
there might be more, but that's what I can remember!
Wow I hated this book. It was one of my most anticipated releases of the year, and I tried really hard to like it. Parts of it I even did like. But I also had some pretty major issues with it, both in the sense of 'I think this is sorta problematic??' and in the sense of 'was this actually edited??'
This read like a book that couldn't make up its mind on what exactly it wanted to be. I'm sad, because I think it had the potential to be great, but instead it's . . . not.
Before I get into my . . . many, many criticisms,,, I do want to touch on the good in this book. Conversion therapy is an incredibly important topic, and this book really packs a punch with some very powerful and important messages. I don't want to minimize that, and I believe this book will mean a lot to many people. I truly hope that others love this book much more than I did.
My first problem with this book was just ,,,, the writing. I could not stand the writing style. I liked it for the first maybe 10% of the book, but after that . . . I don't know if it got old or if it just got worse, but it very quickly became unbearable to me. It also . . . sort of felt really rough, almost like first draft level writing? So maybe it got better between the ARC and the final version, I'm not sure--but either way an arc shouldn't really feel like a first draft.
The book also just felt . . . a bit all over the place? I truly feel like this book tried to do too much at once. Somewhat relatedly, the pacing was abysmal. This took place over the space of a few (?) days, but it was really hard to follow the timeline and it just ended up feeling really choppy and messy.
also can I just say this had one of the worst sex scenes I've ever read and I Did Not Like It
My next big problem was that I really hated Connor. He just annoyed me so much, and like I was rooting for him, but only on the very basic level of 'literally no one deserves this place so I hope he can get out', because I sure as hell didn't care about his wellbeing specifically. He just . . . hhh he annoyed me. He was also sort of . . . inconsistent? Also, he cheated. He even acknowledged he was cheating, and he still did it and didn't seem to think there was anything wrong with it. And I am so not here for that.
Also I just absolutely hated the ending. It was,,,, so open and it felt like it was being set up for a sequel but I don't think it was????
Next we get to the slew of issues I had with this book that were a bit more . . . yikes. Some of these may have changed between the ARC and the finished copy, so do take some of this with a grain of salt, but . . . I had a lot of issues here.
- I felt there were some pretty strong implications that Costa Rica was "backwards" and that was why they were able to do have a conversion camp there but not in the US, which . . . isn't a great implication? and like,,,, conversion therapy is still legal in much of the US soooo,,,,,
- (I don't actually remember this very clearly, but I made a note of it so anyways) the only bi rep felt like it fit into a lot of harmful stereotypes wit her sort of being into everybody and? according to my notes she cheated too? I have veeeery little memory of this but I made a very angry note so yeah I guess it wasn't good and wasn't really addressed ever
- there were multiple comments implying that having sex made you better or more grown up and,,, can we Not
- also there was the wholeass time that the love interest said he was glad the main character came and I'm like,,,, I think it was supposed to be romantic???? but personally I sure as hell wouldn't be glad that someone I cared about had come to conversion therapy even if it *was* the only reason I got to meet them?? because it's going to leave him super traumatized and like,,,,,,, just don't. don't tell the guy you like that you're glad he came to conversion camp because it means you got to meet him
- last but certainly not least, one of my big issues with this book was the way Connor was given a chance to leave, and decided not to take it because it was "the right thing to do". Now I'm not saying I mind that he stayed (even if I think it was dumb), but I do take issue with the way the book portrayed it as The Right Choice. I understand not wanting to abandon the others there, but . . . is it really a healthy message to give queer teens that accepting the safe way out is immoral? It's not like he would have been actively harming the others by leaving, and . . . he didn't owe them anything. Sometimes when you're in a dangerous and traumatizing situation, you need to get yourself out first, and try and help later. He could have left, and then pointed the authorities towards the conversion camp harbouring a literal fugitive. I just . . . something doesn't sit right with me about the way it was portrayed. I'm not saying throw others under the bus for your own sake, I'm just saying . . . if other people are already under the bus, you don't need to throw yourself under too. I don't know, it didn't sit right with me.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.