Absolutely chilling conversion-therapy horror story that doesn’t let you go until the very last page.
Connor Major’s summer break is turning into a nightmare.
His SAT scores bombed, the old man he delivers meals to died, and when he came out to his religious zealot mother, she had him kidnapped and shipped off to a secluded island. His final destination: Nightlight Ministries, a conversion therapy camp that will be his new home until he “changes.”
But Connor’s troubles are only beginning. At Nightlight, everyone has something to hide from the campers to the “converted” staff and cagey camp director, and it quickly becomes clear that no one is safe. Connor plans to escape and bring the other kidnapped teens with him. But first, he’s exposing the camp’s horrible truths for what they are— and taking this place down.
I received an ARC and reviewed honestly and voluntarily.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Content warnings include: homophobia in all forms, parental abuse, conversion-therapy, suicide, murder, cheating, violence, emotional torture, racism, sexism, transphobia, electroshocks, abduction, non-explicit sex between teenagers.
Mentions of: islamophobia, statutory rape, teenage pregnancy, hate crime leading to death and disability.
Author Adam Sass is very upfront in the foreword about this being a story that features a lot of queer pain and suffering, with its focus being how queer people react to this pain. And how that reaction and coping strategy can sometimes be humor.
I didn’t find Surrender Your Sons particularly humorous. Connor, the protagonist, isn’t a guy who makes a lot of jokes, and while there were funny moments, they were mostly born out of the combination of a horrible situation and horny teenagers who don’t always have a filter (either verbally or mentally) and had a certain shock factor to them.
Related to that, the book was also messy. Or rather, Connor was. He flip flops between emotions and which actions to take, he makes mistakes, overreacts, does stupid things and says things that aren’t okay in the heat of the moment. Most of his mistakes are adressed, be it by other characters or his own realization. In my lack of experience, I found him to be a believable portrayal of a seventeen year old teenager.
Despite it not being as humorous as I thought it would be and starting from a different point I imagined, I was sucked into the plot immediately. I binged the book in a single day because I could not put it down. The horrifying events, shocking twists and chilling turns were executed in a way that kept me reading and reading towards the end.
Speaking of the ending, I liked how much of it was focused on the aftermath. Because despite escaping and unearthing the camp’s secrets, the horror is far from over. Ultimately it does have a vaguely hopeful ending and left me feeling satisfied (and I’m usually only satisfied with happy-rainbow-sparkling-everyone-loves-each-other endings.)
If there was one thing I had to complain about it would be the timeline. The vast majority of the book (safe for flashbacks) plays over the course of one or two days, and to me that felt just a little bit too tight. It was still all believable and made sense, but the choice to not let things play out over a larger timeframe surprised and baffled me a bit.
Overall, Surrender Your Sons was a fantastic reading experience. It’s brutally frank at times, and paints a stark, shocking picture of our society, and doesn’t gloss over some of the often ignored ugly details.
If you decide to read it, especially if you are queer, please mind the content warnings, take care of yourself and make sure that you’re in the right mindset for it. Reading it was like watching a horror movie for me – as such it was truly horrifying and it shocked me with it’s gruesomeness several times. Additionally, the writing style is very descriptive and often used blunt, harsh adjectives to describe everything.
Speaking of, I did like that there was quite a bit of representation. The love interest as well as several other characters are fat, and multiple characters are POC. I can however not speak about if the representation was executed well.
The queer representation also isn’t limited to gay boys, but features lesbian, bi and trans characters.