Member Reviews

So when I saw this ARC on Netgalley and read the summary I was over the moon. I went to request it and instead I found “Wish for it” complete with a wishbone. With two fingers crossed I wished for it. When I saw “The Publisher has granted your wish” I was audibly amazed and excited.

So, thank you Flux/North Star Editions, and thank you, NetGalley, for the chance to read this eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Okay, first let’s talk about not only how amazing the title is but the cover. They both flow so well together, the title gives a dark vibe while the cover gives that element of mystery. Kudos to the designer.

I wanted to love this so much more than I did. I’m the first person to root for a queer story, and this one promised the content that would make for a fantastic story. However, it never quite got there.
The beginning seemed very promising.

After coming out to his mother Connor finds himself in a home where he feels unloved and unseen. He tries to find comfort in his boyfriend but instead feels unworthy of his affections. Then one of his favorite Meals on Wheels clients, Ricky, passes away but leaves behind a cryptic note for Connor to find. Before Connor can find out what the note means he is kidnapped and sent to a conversion camp.

Again this has all the makings of a fantastic story. However, it seemed to fall flat. There were places in the plot that seemed to drag on forever and others that seemed so rushed that it felt like part of the story was missing. Not to mention, I felt like there were so many different topics to address yet the two day timeline that the plot was held within didn’t allow for the proper time for all of them to be addressed. This wasn’t a favorite for me however it did do well addressing many issues that young people in the LGBTQ community deal with. Therefore, I would still recommend it to readers who are interested in reading books with lgbtq characters.

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I don’t know what I expected but it definitely wasn’t this. Going into this, I knew that there would be some heavy, dark content but I didn’t think it would get this dark. Now, my main problem was that I didn’t realize this was a thriller until I read the author’s note. And I don’t normally read thrillers, they just aren’t my thing. I was taken aback a bit, but I started reading anyway and now I can safely say that I’m glad I did. Surrender your Sons wasn’t what I expected but that didn’t make it a bad book. To be honest, I was surprised by how much the story captured me.

And now I’m sitting here, trying to write this review and to put my thoughts and feelings into proper words but it’s hard. Hard because while the topics this book centers around are so heavy but on the other hand it’s so incredibly important to talk about them. Because this is a story about the darkest places a human can go to, exploring the ugly sides of the human soul and human behaviour, but it is also a deeply hopeful one about overcoming and fighting against that dark stuff that seems to be in all of us.

Connor, the protagonist, has a bad coming out to his mother who sends him away on a summer camp that turns out to be a conversion camp for young people. There, he gets to know the other campers, each of them having their own stories and backgrounds and being in various states of not-okay. I thought Connor was a great protagonist, brave and strong because he had to be but also full of hope that things would get better. He helps others but knows where limits are and when it would be better to try again another time, he is loyal to people he likes and is also a bit hotheaded. He is a very complex character, shaped by his surroundings yet always true to himself. Even though this book doesn’t cover a lot of time, the way Connor transforms during the story and how his relationships towards other characters change are really well written. I also liked how the other campers and their stories were written. They’ve been at camp for a longer time, they have different experiences that influenced them in some way or another. All of them have experienced things that won’t leave them and that have shaped them.

What was a bit off for me was the pacing. As I already mentioned, the story doesn’t cover a lot of time and I think it would have worked better if it would have covered more. There was so much happening and I thought days had passed but then the actual time was said and I got just confused.

Apart from that, I thought this book was really good. I liked the mixture of darkness and hope and how gay it was. It’s an important story that covers things we should definitely talk about more because while we may think conversion therapy isn’t really a thing anymore, it very much is and it is dangerous and we have to discuss it. This book will lead you through a lot of emotions, both good and bad ones and it will make you think. While I definitely recommend Surrender your Sons, I also recommend to read the trigger warnings and to take them seriously.

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I wish being gay was more fun. Everyone else looks like they’re having so much fun, but as soon as I enter Queer Land, it’s all danger camps and punishment and being too tightly wound to enjoy the little sex I was getting."

Surrender Your Sons is easily my favorite YA read of 2020. I didn't know what to expect going in, I saw someone on Instagram raving about it and requested it on a whim and I'm very glad that I did. This book made me feel probably every emotion possible, I went from laughing, to crying, to being so Goddamn triggered, back to laughing and crying again. This is such a roller coaster of a book and Adam Sass really outdid himself.

This story follows Connor Majors, a 17 year old gay kid growing up in a very small, religion driven town. His mother is so incredibly homophobic it's shocking but Connor still knows who he is and what he wants in life. One night a couple of men in masks come to whisk him away on a "vacation" this his mom paid for and this sets the story up for the rest of the book. The vacation spot is an island in Costa Rica that just so happens to be Nightlight Conversion Camp. And the head of the camp turns out to be the Pastor of the town that Connor is from. From here Connor and a bunch of other Queer Kids are stuck on this island and are trying to do their best to stay true to themselves and survive. But the rest of the kids and Connor get together a plan to escape.

I don't want to say much about the storyline because I think it would be much more enjoyable to go in blind with just the idea of a bunch of Queer Kids trying to escape a crazy ass conversion camp. As I mentioned above, this book is very triggering, as someone who grew up in a very religious family, as soon as the bible verses started to drop I wanted to run away super fast. This also tackles a lot of mental health issues, there's obviously a lot of blatant homophobia, and there's a suicide scene that could be triggering for some people.

And even though this seems like a really dark book (I mean it definitely is) there's also a ton of funny ass moments and a cute little romance and a lot of empowering scenes. Even though Surrender Your Sons really tackles what it means to be a Queer Kid growing up in non-accepting families and the mental toll it takes on the youth, it also keeps you hopeful and excited.

"Saying you’re bi is a little too complicated for the Noah’s Ark Gang here at Nightlight.”

When it comes to the characters, I love every single of them. The plot is phenomenal, the writing pulls you in so fast, and the set up of the camp was done so perfectly. Connor is a great Main Character and I'm super glad that he's the one whose head we were in. Honestly though, this could have been told from any of the other kids' PoV and it would have still been a great book. Connor is great though, I love everything about him. Also the little romance that Connor and someone else from the Camp that was thrown in was *very very cute.*

I definitely recommend this to everyone, but if you're someone who is easily triggered when it comes to homophobes uhmm I would definitely say hold off on this. Some scenes in here felt like a punch straight to the gut and yeah it hurts like hell, but it's also very relatable.

I could continue to just say how much I love this and how perfect it was but I'll stop ahaha. ANYWAYS! Go read this book once it releases on September 15th. Thanks <3

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It was the bright yellow colour of the cover that attracted my eye, then the title “Surrender Your Sons” made me curious as to what the book was about. The genres I have seen listed for this book are Teen, YA and LGBTQIA which I agree with but it is also so much more. I am not a Teen reader yet thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I’d say it has lots of elements within it such as mystery, thriller, suspense and it covers some really emotive subjects. The book deals with “coming out” to your family, their reactions as well as your wider community’s reactions too.

The main character in the book is Connor Major, who lives in Ambrose, Illinois. A place he describes as in the middle of nowhere. Connor lives with his mother, Marcia Major, as his father left them years ago and has had very little to do with Connor since. Marcia Major works at the local hospital caring for preemie babies.
The Majors nearest neighbour is Reverend Stanley Packard who seems to float around Ambrose with all the women, including Marcia fawning over him and basically hanging on his every word and request. Connor has an Iranian boyfriend, Ario who is older, and much more experienced as well as further on his life. Ario’s mother and family are supportive of him being gay, which is probably why Ario not only encourages, but pressures Connor into officially “coming out”. Unfortunately for Connor, his mother is shocked and annoyed, so much so that her reaction is to confiscate Connor’s phone and not allow him out. Connor briefly dated Vicky, who he now looks upon as his best friend. Vicky is pregnant by an older man whose identity she is determined to keep secret. Unfortunately for Connor this makes people resume he is the father of her baby. The sad thing is his mother Marcia indicates she would be quite happy if this was the case, and tries to pressure her son into “stepping up” and “taking responsibility” for Vicky and her baby. Connor’s mum does attempt to punish her son by not allowing him to see his boyfriend and by signing him up to do meals on wheels for the Reverend. It’s whilst doing this that Connor meets Ricky Hannigan. Ricky has had some sort of accident and is paralysed, the Reverend stresses to Connor he must treat Ricky and his mother like VIP’s and always be on time. Ricky lives in the area that Ario does so naturally Connor takes the opportunity to visit his boyfriend but instantly regrets this when he is spotted coming out of his boyfriend’s home by the Reverend who is keeping a close eye on him. After that Connor is accompanied on his meals on wheels round by the Reverend. When Ricky suddenly dies he leaves a musical programme for Connor with the words “Help Connor” and “Nightlight” on it. It’s not until later that Connor realises Ricky is attempting to send him some sort of important message.
Then one evening he is woken from his sleep, restrained, bundled into a van and taken to an Island to basically “make him straight”. He isn’t the only person on his way to the Island, he meets Molly who has a girlfriend and her family have also paid to have their child “made straight” too. Both Connor & Molly are handled roughly and quite badly that first night but its just the beginning of their journey. Connor begins to realise this is the place called Nightlight that Ricky was trying to warn him about.
There’s a real mixed bunch of people at the camp, from 20 yr old rich male model, to young teens. Connor soon discovers that he isn’t the only one who has a parent that doesn’t understand him. At some point within the book all the characters attempt to fake being “normal” to pass the tests and classes they are subjected to. There is one particular class led by the awful Ramona where they have to pair up into “normal couples” and go on a date. The jobs the campers/prisoners are given are very gender specific too, such as Molly cleaning, Darcy waitressing. The punishments are archaic and very “boot camp-esque” even staff members can be subjected to them.

There’s lots of great characters in this book, so its hard to choose just one favourite. I loved Darcy Culpepper, who is described as wearing a retro bob wig. This description had me thinking of Frenchie from Grease and the whole Beauty School Drop Out scenes! It turns out that Darcy is much more, wily and knowledgeable than she is given credit for. Darcy knows things, secrets, about the staff, pupils and what is going on at Nightlight, than you at first think. Another character I liked even though she was only in the book for a few quick scenes was Ario’s younger sister. The one who Connor gave $10 to, as she wanted to donate it to a page of the Aunt of a male model who had disappeared, thought to be being held captive at some weird place that was going to make him straight. Connor empathises with the male model as it appears most of his family have turned against him since he came out just like Connor’s mum has with him. He also likes Ario’s little sister, thinking its great that she wants to help, and is so accepting of both her brother’s and his sexuality.

Now to characters I loved to hate! Well of course the pious, foreboding Reverend Stanley Packard the man in charge at Nightlight. The same man that strides around Ambrose that everyone bends over backwards to please and impress. Then there’s the crazy Miss Ramona Hayward or Miss Manners as the campers nickname her. Ramona is likely to strike out and hit or scratch you if you don’t say what she considers the right thing. Ramona is also the camp nurse, so that’s a great combination when she injures someone, then has to deal with what injury she has inflicted on them. Though Ramona isn’t the only violent one at Nightlight, Briggs is the one in charge when the Reverend is back in Ambrose. Briggs also lashes out and punches and pushes the campers around to make them do what he wants.

The book is told in different series of timelines/memories. There’s Connor “Before” he came out, Connor “After” he came out but “Before Nightlight”, then the “Present” which is Connor at Nightlight and then right at the end of the book we get a taste of life “After Nightlight”. It’s all from Connor’s point of view and we make discoveries about the other characters and Nightlight as he does. He discovers the Winners Wall which is the walls of the cabin the boys sleep in. The walls are covered in photographs of success stories, those that arrived gay and went home “normal/straight”. Its whilst looking at this wall that Connor discovers a photo of Ricky Hannigan, as well as Briggs, one of the staff members. There’s also a space where a photograph has been ripped away. The Winners Wall holds a lot of clues and secrets that Connor needs to uncover the truths about. As Briggs was on the boys cabin Winners Wall it made me wonder if female staff member, Ramona was on the Winners Wall in the girl’s cabin, but we didn’t get a description of their cabin or anything from their point of view/their voice really.

I found the book quite an addictive read and enjoyed pondering what had happened to Ricky that ended up with the FBI turning up at his home when he died to investigate. For them to be still asking questions about his accident that happened years before. Why was Connor told to treat him like a VIP? I loved the brain teaser type aspect to the book, and at times hated having to put it down. In fact, when I finally finished reading the book it was in the early hours of the morning as I had to know what had happened to Ricky and who was responsible for Ricky’s accident. I totally admit I thought I had solved the mystery a couple of times but wow I was still shocked when the truth was revealed. This book certainly made you think and puzzle over why these people at Nightlight thought how they treated the campers would somehow change their sexuality. The end of the book was really realistic and I am really glad it was. Connor talking to Ario about how different he felt now they had been apart and what he had been through with his new friends he met at Nightlight. I was glad things were kept super realistic with Connor’s mother too. It would have been so easy to have her denying any knowledge of what went on at the Island she had sent her son to. It would have been a typical happy ever after for her to apologise and her to welcome back her son immediately. I found the ending with Connor & Marco reuniting Ricky’s ashes with his own true love fairly emotional. This book certainly transports you to hell and back with Connor on his rollercoaster life. Though this book does deal with serious issues don’t be put off reading it as it also contains some great humorous quotes and scenes too.

My immediate thoughts upon finishing the book were that I had really enjoyed reading it. The book was really believable and I quickly became attached to the characters. By the end I even felt a little sympathy for staff member Briggs, though I couldn’t bring myself to feel anything positive for the Reverend or Ramona!

To sum up I think maybe some readers will think it a little far fetched and try to deny places and people like Nightlight existing but who knows if they are providing the type of teaching and treatment described within this book, they wouldn’t be openly advertising it would they! I loved the mystery and suspense elements within the book. It did make me think about anyone “coming out” in the present day and I reckon its still a big step for anyone. When will society just be accepting of everyone no matter who they are or what their sexuality is.

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While I found the overall premise of this book good and the writing style was fine, the overall pacing of this was absurd. The idea that they can accomplish all of that in 24 hours, that teenagers would immediately trust an outsider like that, it was just never ending info dump and should have absolutely been spread out over even 3 days, but up to a week. The conclusion was weak and I do not understand how everyone is going on about the brilliance of this, don't even get me started on the infidelity. Connors boyfriend does nothing wrong, has not faults aside from naïvety and Connor just cheats on him in some bizarre cave scene that felt more like Days of Our Lives. Honestly just no. 3 stars maximum because I like Adam and the writing isn't awful, the development just needs a load of help.

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I really liked this book, which feel strange to say considering the subject matter. But Sass did himself a great service by infusing the narrative with just enough campiness (The Wizard of Oz, showtunes) and humor to offset the darkness that sometimes threatened to overwhelm the story.

Also... HUGE BRAVO for the scenes of queer intimacy! I've never seen gay sex depicted on-page in a mainstream YA novel before (I even wrote a paper about it in grad school), and Sass does it with sensitivity, bluntness and realism.

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SURRENDER YOUR SONS is an emotionally difficult read that manages to combine horrifying themes of violence, homophobia, parental neglect/abuse, and emotional torture with a fair amount of hope, and a few doses of humor. Sass puts a content warning with a full explanation of what he's trying to do in this narrative right at the beginning, and while I usually think that stories should speak for themselves so the reader can draw their own conclusions, for a YA book like this I think it was probably a good idea. I really did like this book, no matter how much it upset me, and I think that Connor Major is a really fun, complex, and inspirational main character to follow at this conversion camp of one's worst nightmares (though in many ways, probably not too far from the truth). I think that I would ultimately classify this as a combination of a mystery-coming of age-horror story, and while some aspects were maybe a little over the top (though again, maybe not), I also thought that the root messages were spot on. I specifically liked how Sass really demonstrated how abused and mistreated people sometimes can turn into abusers and monsters, and while that doesn't excuse what they do to other people, it does show why this kind of treatment is so, so damaging and far reaching. The mystery at hand was well done, and I thought that Sass did a very good job of laying it all out through present moment and flashbacks. But ultimately the story here is about rising up against oppressors and being true to yourself and doing what is right for you. Even if it can have fallout.

SURRENDER YOUR SONS is a rough one. Heed the content warnings. But I think that ultimately it has a lot of valuable lessons to tell, as well as a pulse pounding mystery.

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WOW. What. A. Ride.

I was engaged the entire time and I was really feeling for our main character and the other campers. This had a lot of cool twists and turns, some more obvious than others, and this never got boring. I usually don't read a lot of thrillers (I don't even know why, since the few that I have read, I've really enjoyed), so I can't really comment on if this has a lot of tropes, but for me, it was very well crafted.

I really liked that this wasn't just SOME boy, getting send to A conversion therapy camp, but our main character Connor played a very important role in the history and mystery surrounding this camp. While I really liked the constant action, I didn't really like that the narrated time in this was SO short. The main story of this book pretty much happens in the span of one single day. That together with the fact that the way things work in this camp were kind of flimsy and vague made the entire camp a little hard to grasp. I was ready to be horrified and disgusted by the things they put these teens through, but ultimately, we didn't see much of that. For being one of the most secretive conversion therapy camps, their methods seemed a bit vague and uneffective. I would have just liked to get a bit more information about this. For this being a conversion camp for queer people, there was decidedly little talk about what being queer even means and why the staff is so against it and how they're trying to change it. Even if their reasons are wrong and deranged, I still wanted to see it.

The twists and turns of the story (which I won't spoil of course!) might be up to personal tastes in some cases, but I personally really enjoyed them!

Now onto the romance! While I really enjoyed the romance in this book, I didn't really like that Connor had a boyfriend at the beginning of the book. It does make sense for the story to work, because Connor needed a reason to come out to his mother, that way this relationship was handled later on in the book didn't really sit right with me. It didn't keep me from enjoying the new romance, but it's definitely something to be aware of. There was also a couple of side relationships in this (I think two that are explicitly present in the story), and I was sooo into one of them, even though it's highly problematic. I just thought it fit the story pretty well and made my heart ache.

Even if I might have criticised a few things that could have been better, I still thouroughly enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend you pick this up if you're up for a wild ride!

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Whoo boy, this one is so difficult to review.
On the one hand, I completely understand where the author was coming from in writing this - they say in their foreword that they want to highlight and explore queer pain and that is definitely something the book does. It highlights queer pain, showing the emotional repercussions that discrimination, hatred, and conversion therapy can have on young individuals.
But I think that there is a fine line between showing queer pain and exploiting it to 'spice up' the plot and sadly, this book fell into the latter category for me.
Which, by no means, is to say that this is not a good book. Surrender Your Sons is fantastically written, the prose flows and though I had some major issues with the pacing and think it would have been more beneficial to have the events further spread out than a mere twenty-four hours at the conversion therapy camp, I still feel like this will apply to many a reader and has potential to be adapted into a movie with its creepy and anxiety-inducing vibes and it's Hunger Games-esque caricatures of characters.
But I just have to say that there were a lot of harmful messages in the novel beyond the queer pain depictions. Every single villain in this book is a homophobe and and a closeted gay individual. Maybe that was intentional to show how being in the closet can change you but I felt that it wasn't the best message to tell children that all the bad guys are secretly gay and those who are openly so are prosecuted. I just don't know. That rubbed me the wrong way the entire time.
All in all, I think this book has good intentions, great writing but maybe should have been given a few more senstivity readers before going further in the publication process. Especially for younger readers in the LGBTQ+ community, this isn't a read I could recommend.

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4.5/5

i had to sit on the rating of this one for a while, and the longer i waited the more it seemed to go up, i just couldnt stop thinking about it. this is one of those rare books that haunts you days, weeks, YEARS after you finish it.

for so many characters in one book, i find that most times only a few, if any, are well developed. but this was not the case here. they were all very easy to tell apart and i didnt find myself forgetting about any of them.

the plot twists just KEPT COMING and that ending..... omg. please tell me there is a sequel because i NEED IT like yesterday

my only complaint is that it was pretty slow in the beginning, but the action packed into the end definitely made up for it.

connor was not my FAVORITE character, but i admire his strength in the face of his circumstances. i liked marcos a lot though!

also dont listen to sad music for the last 30 pages or so or you will bawl your eyes out like a little baby.
...not that i would know anything about that at all. nope.

but overall GOD what a gorgeous, terrifying, heartbreaking, haunting book. this one is important and i hope it will receive the attention it so deserves.

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**I was provided an electronic ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for honest review.**

Adam Sass hits hard with this LGBTQ contemporary about a gay teen, Connor Major, who is sent to an island conversion camp after coming out to his mother. As if a conversion camp wasn't bad enough, Connor only just arrives at Nightlight when red flags begin going up in all directions. Something is up with the staff, secrets are around every corner, and all of it is surrounding a common name: Ricky. Ricky, who Connor knows died before he ever came to Nightlight.

Major trigger warnings in all manner of directions for this book. Warnings include but may not be limited to the following: suicide, depression, conversion camps, homophobia, child abuse, age gap romance with an authority figure, toxic families, sexism, and murder.

This type of book is not typically my thing. I don't tend toward contemporaries, let alone hard-hitting YA contemporaries. That being said, I did enjoy this novel. Adam Sass has a skill at maintaining a sense of hope and resistance despite all of the completely awful things taking place. Sass allows his characters to be vulnerable while also showcasing the strength and resilience they are capable of. This book could have been a much different story under a different author, but Sass makes Connor's story triumphant even when Connor is at rock bottom.

I think that the story is gripping and will be a one-sitting read for many people as it was for me. I very much look forward to Sass' future works.

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Thank you NetGalley and Flux for the digital ARC of this book!

I'm just. So glad I finally get to scream about this book!

Connor Major has a lot to deal with. A religiously fanatic mother, a best friend who's pregnant and everyone thinks he's the father, and a boyfriend, who while deliciously handsome, also pressures Connor to come out to his mother, despite this being the worst idea in the history of really terrible ideas.

Cue conversion camp! Connor is sent to camp Nightlight, and what ensues over the one weekend he's there is more than one murder mystery, abuse from religious nutjobs in an attempt to 'pray away the gay', and total destruction of one kind or another.

Hey, so, Simon Spier? Yes, we love you but kindly move. As a society, we've moved past the need for sweet cinnamon roll gay boys who are written for white women. What we have now are angry, self-conscious, horny gay boys who are just trying their best, okay? Connor is sweet, don't get me wrong. He loves his mother. He loves his boyfriend. He just wants everything and everyone to be okay. But when it's not? He's going to let. you. know. He said what he said. Also, the internalized homophobia in this book is written so well. We see Connor have physical reactions when he's in bed with a boy. We see his anxiety manifest, and while I'm sure there are some people who'd rather not see it, I think it's an incredibly important and relevant experience that so many of us in the LGBTQ community go through.

This book is pretty fast-paced, which makes sense considering so much happens over the span of a weekend. I didn't even realize it had only been a few days until the end. I think it works in this context, though, because it keeps the momentum of the story without dragging in the middle like some books are prone to do. The thriller aspect will keep you guessing. I had about 100 theories throughout this entire book and none of them were right.

It's a tough read in some spots. While Connor is such a joy to read, the things he's dealing with are not. Homophobia, assault, an uncomfortable age gap relationship, pressure to be out before he's ready, internalized homophobia, and oh yeah. Literal murder. Adam Sass juggles all of these in one hand and still manages to weave together a cohesive story that'll keep readers excited and guessing.

The supporting characters are all so well done. The cast is fantastically diverse as far as both race and sexuality go. Some of the kids are very young, and I think the fact that the older kids are so protective over them is two-fold: 1. Because obviously they don't want the kids to get hurt but 2. I think this says a lot about the LGBTQ community, and how we tend to stick together in a world where some would like us to not exist at all. It's nice to see, despite the surrounding.

The romance aspect is not distracting to the story and while yes, it is a bit of instalove, I absolutely do not fault this book for that. When you're in a situation where you could literally die at any moment when you're just trying to exist, and you happen to find someone in the same situation who is also adorable and achingly sweet? What's a boy to do, honestly?

I will riot if there's not a book two. I NEED it and I hope we're able to get it!

Please read this book. It's fantastic and important and kind of scary which is always a plus!

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This book hit me really hard. I have no clue what it's like to have been to a conversion camp, nor will I ever (hopefully), but the author did a great job of making the reader feel the frustration and pain of the main character while at this camp. I think this book is a crucial part of understanding queer history and current events and it's unfortunately incredibly relevant. The only thing I wasn't sold on was the ending, which is more of a personal opinion and not at any fault of the author.

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After coming out to his religious zealot of a mother, Connor Major is kidnapped and sent to Nightlight Ministries, an island conversion camp near Costa Rica. Cut off from the outside world, his boyfriend, and any sense of safety, Connor must navigate this “Pray the Gay Away” fever dream he just can’t seem to wake up from. When he teams up with the other queer campers, Connor might have an actual chance at escaping, and maybe even getting rid of this place once and for all.

As you probably guessed from its description, SURRENDER YOUR SONS is a grim story to digest—but, unfortunately, one that is all too real for many queer teens. The novel refuses to shy away from not just the mere existence of conversion therapy camps, but the horrific emotional and physical trauma inflicted by this detrimental practice—which is still yet to be banned statewide in 29 states in the U.S. Debut author Adam Sass explores the depths of queer suffering with scalpel-sharp precision and nuance as he peels back the proverbial curtain on Nightlight Ministries—no matter how painful a task this proves to be. At one point a Nightlight employee tells Connor that “this isn’t Love, Simon”; and there is no question that SURRENDER YOUR SONS is cut from a far different cloth than this (relatively) fluffy queer rom-com. Happily ever afters and cute falling-in-love montages are replaced by creepy camp directors and a remote island hellhole.

But as much as SURRENDER YOUR SONS is a tale of queer pain, it’s also a story about queer resistance, evoking a Hunger Games-level of adrenaline-inducing action and hard-fought rebellion against an oppressive regime. Ultimately, the survival of these queer teens rests in their communal uprising and mutual support— and nothing is more inspiring in an otherwise nightmarish scenario. All in all, SURRENDER YOUR SONS is a gripping and inventive addition to the young adult thriller genre.

Trigger Warnings: conversion therapy camp; kidnapping; internalized queerphobia/extreme religious queerphobia; suicide; queerphobic emotional and physical abuse/violence; queerphobic slurs; anxiety attacks; murder; sexual content; swearing

(Pine Reads Review would like to thank NetGalley and the publisher for providing us with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes are taken from an advanced copy and may be subject to change upon final publication.)

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Wow! This book totally had me on the edge of my seat. SYS is a heavy book, and I enjoyed it though the abusive aspects really tore me apart emotionally--be advised to check out the CWs if you need re: suicide, panic attacks, mental/physical punishment, etc. I honestly can't believe that conversion camps still exist in this world. They're despicable and should be outlawed. I really hope books like SYS will help bring an end to such practices.

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I went back and forth on how to rate this book and I hate that we rate books at all. But here we are.

Going into SURRENDER YOUR SONS, I was actually expecting something along the line of Lord of the Flies or Wilder Girls but with queer people. Although it did tap into some violent situations, it did not give me the same horror vibe. But that's on me. My expectations could transform into a thousand balloons and carry my house away via UP style.

THE RUNDOWN:

When Conner's first-ever boyfriend forces him to "come out" to his super religious mother, he finds himself being basically kidnapped and sent to Costa Rica to what appears to be a gay conversion camp called Nightlight. The events leading up to his scary situation include a shady Reverand and a Meals on Wheels job which includes delivering to a handicapped man named Ricky who leaves a cryptic note on a playbill upon his death.

Connor soon finds out Ricky's note contains the name of the "summer camp" Connor is dragged to. Soon, he hooks up with Marco, Molly, Drew, and a few other queer kids in the same situation and digs further into the mystery that is Nightlight and what really happened to Ricky.

The one (or two) complaint I had was that I wasn't completely sold on why Connor cared so much about Ricky. But I think part of me knew that he was just a way to take down the camp indirectly and directly. Also, things move very quickly in the book. I was surprised when only 24 hours have passed at one point. It felt like at least a few days.

The B characters felt a little flat as if they could be each other and I'd never know the difference. But they serve well in giving Connor a sense of community after feeling so lost and alone after the rejection of his own mother.

All in all, I think this was a good book that will resonate with lots of people. Its raw honesty will make this a memorable debut.

Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for the review copy.

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Surrender your sons is one of most anticipated reads and I was so Happy to have the chance to read it. Adam Sass wrote a story able to make you angry, upset, hopeful, in love and ready to Scream at the same time. The characters are Absolutely relatable, complex and impossible not to love. Even the "villains" are almost relatable with their pasts and traumas. This book is a gem

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I read this book a few months back as an eARC and I think about it to this point. This book is absolutely amazing and I loved it.
It like breaks you really and you start to think about life, love, friendship, religion, the society and so much more. I would have liked if the author would have focussed on the religion part a bit more, but that's just a small thing I would have found really interesting to know more about.
I loved reading it even though it was really hard to do sometimes. I felt with the characters, eventhough I can never fully understand what they must have been going through.
But don't get me wrong it wasn't a really sad book all the time (although it really is sometimes), but also funny and just urgh just read it. I would absolutely recommend it!

4,5/5

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“I wish being gay was more fun.”

**Content warning for homophobic violence, including conversion “therapy,” child abuse, suicide, and murder. **

Boyishly proud of his discovery, Marcos beams, but where his heart has lifted, mine weighs heavier.

It’s another Winner’s Wall.

Instead of pictures, our sanctum’s black wall is covered with chalk-drawn hearts, and at the foot of the wall lies a pile of powdery-white limestones . “Have you ever seen this before?” I ask, approaching with the same awe and trepidation as when Marcos brought me to the Winner’s Wall. He doesn’t respond. His smile fallen, he presses his hand to one of the chalk hearts. Inside it are four letters: MK + CR. “Initials?”

Each batch of initials is different: TB + KW, KS + DA, MR + ASZ On and on, they fill dozens of hearts, climbing the cave into darkened corners that even our tiki lamp can’t reach. […]

Nightlight tried to snuff it out, but love grew. Love found its way to the island, and this sanctuary made it possible. Whoever first transcribed their initials into a heart started a chain reaction that led to an entirely different Winner’s Wall. In the cabin, the Winner’s Wall of “successful” Nightlight graduates is a depressing monument to control and domination. But this wall is an anthem of wild, unchained resistance.

***

They’re soaking wet in their swim trunks, pure joy in their eyes, unmarred by time, unaware of the savage future waiting for them. They were friends. The cruelty singes my lungs black. My eyes burn with tears. They’re dead. They don’t need to be, this didn’t need to happen. I wrestle with the unfair weight and constraints of time—I’m furious at my body for not being able to instantly travel back in time, right now, and rescue those boys on the dock.

***

YA novels centered around conversion therapy camps are an insta-read for me, if only because I’m appalled (though not entirely shocked) that such places still exist. Euphemistically referred to as “reparative therapy,” conversion “therapy” purports to “cure” its LGBTQ “patients” of their sexual “deviancy” (read: queerness) using a variety of methods that range from emotional and psychological to outright physical abuse. On the “milder” end, you have psychological “counseling” (read: bullying), religious indoctrination, visualization, and gender role performance; among the more extreme abuse that’s been documented is chemical castration, aversive treatments (e.g., the pairing of electric shocks or drug-induced nausea with same-sex pornography), and even ice pick lobotomies. Though it’s been rejected by nearly every reputable medical and psychological organization as pseudoscience and child abuse, currently only twenty US states ban conversion therapy on minors.

Conversion therapy is a horror story that all but writes itself – and yet Adam Sass delivers a cleverly unique take on the story with his debut novel, SURRENDER YOUR SONS. Part THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST (hey, it’s the gold standard! THE SUMMER I WASN'T ME works too.), part murder mystery (Agatha Christie? idk, I don’t read a ton from this group. The nonfiction UNFINISHED LIVES or INDECENT ADVANCES might be better points of comparison.), with just a touch of Billy Porter’s flair sprinkled throughout (the author’s name is kind of perfect, because his MC can be sassy AF, providing much-needed moments of levity), SURRENDER YOUR SONS is equal parts frightening and funny.

It’s the summer before senior year, and Connor Major’s life is not going according to plan. He recently came out to his parental unit Marcia, a single mom and the most evangelical of the zealots residing in his adopted home town of Ambrose, Illinois. She was okay-ish, if a bit icy, at first – but when she found out that Connor also had a boyfriend, a real-life, flesh and blood partner with whom to have sexyfuntimes, Marcia straight up lost her ship: she confiscated Connor’s phone, followed by his laptop and Wifi. He’s effectively grounded for the duration of the summer, except for his Meals on Wheels deliveries, helpfully coordinated by the Majors’ only neighbor (and Marcia’s doomed crush), Reverend Packard. He’s resorted to stealing minutes with Ario, who’s headed off for college in the fall, between deliveries. Even that plan goes kaput when Connor’s remaining client, Ricky Hannigan, dies suddenly of an infected bedsore.

And then Marcia arranges Connor’s kidnapping, and things really go sideways … but not before Ricky leaves Connor an old playbill etched with a cryptic warning in his will. WTF is going on here!?!

First by van, then by plane and boat, Connor is disappeared to small island off the coast of Costa Rica, to a rugged camp operated by Nightlight Ministries – and ruled over by none other than Reverend Packard. He forms a quick bond with his fellow campers Molly, Marcos, Darcy, Lacrishia, Vance, and Jack, one that’s only cemented when it becomes clear that their missions dovetail in some surprising ways. Connor wants – no, needs – to find out what happened to Ricky Hannigan all those years ago, while the long-term residents aim to escape the island – but not before gathering enough evidence to shut it down for good. With the clock ticking and a murderer on the loose, can they emerge from Nightlight unscathed?

From start to finish, SURRENDER YOUR SONS is pretty spectacular: Sass has the creepy, ominous vibe down pat, and the murder mystery part of the story will keep you guessing until the end. The Nighlight captives represent a scrappy, resourceful group of kids from a variety of backgrounds, and you can’t help but root for them – and hard. (I’ll admit, I was hoping for more stabby stabby revenge, but the logic presented against it is – sadly – sound.) I wasn’t totally on board with the Pastor’s motivation – which is why I gave this one five stars, and not five stars plus a “favorite” – but otherwise the story line is as believable as it is compelling.

I think what I love most, though, is the ending: naturally everyone wants a happy ending, but the happiness never sits well when it feels forced or unrealistic. At first, it looks like the characters in SURRENDER YOUR SONS are barrelling towards this fate, but Sass throws us for a loop in the final chapters. This story doesn’t have a happily ever after – but it’s brimming with hope nonetheless. Connor’s victory is bittersweet, but it’s all the more plausible for its ambiguity.

Also worth mentioning is Sass’s wry, audacious sense of humor. Connor’s one-liners, sometimes bandied at the most inappropriate times, are tiny masterpieces of their own.

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While this wasn't a book that filled me with joy, as it shouldn't, Adam Sass' Surrender Your Boys feels necessary and vital to the collection of Queer books that open the conversation of why we need a community. Pain and perseverance are so realted to the LGBTQ+, and this book captures that so clearly and beautifully. This is not going to be a fun summer read kind of book but I do see it striking a nerve with people. This is one of the stronger Debut's that I've read and I can't wait to see what else Mr. Sass has next.
4.5/5

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