published: 15th September 2020
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.
Galley provided by publisher
CWs: conversion therapy, murder (presented initially as suicide), homophobic language, internalised homophobic, homophobic violence (including murder), transphobia, homophobic abuse
I knew Surrender Your Sons wasn’t really going to be my kind of book almost from before I actually started reading it. So this review and rating are more about what I couldn’t deal with, more than a statement on how good the book itself is.
My main issue was that the whole thing gave me a vague undercurrent of anxiety throughout, because I was waiting for something horrific and graphic to happen at the conversion therapy camp. In the grand scheme of things, that part wasn’t actually so bad. There isn’t anything that’s detailed and graphic about the activities that make up conversion therapy. So if you’re worried about that, then it’s fine in that sense. Because I was worried about that and that is what gave me the uneasy sense throughout and probably ruined at least part of any likelihood of me enjoying it.
So, really, that was my main problem. And yeah, with that, I probably started picking up on other things more easily. You know how it goes.
The whole thing takes place, somewhat disbelievingly, over the course of a single day. Connor arrives at night, wakes up the next day, and by the time 24 hours has passed by, the entire camp has been taken down. Now, I might be able to believe that a little better if, say, there had been a plan in place that Connor just slots into. But there isn’t.
However, I’m well aware that’s an issue with my inability to suspend my disbelief.
But then it also turns out all of the homophobic villains are actually gay. And that I really didn’t like here, to be honest. Would it have been so hard to have them be straight? Really? And, okay, so the real Big Bad is probably straight, but the immediate villains in this were not. So that didn’t feel so great. It felt, at times, as if it was saying “maybe you should feel sorry for this violently homophobic man because he’s gay and closeted and self-hating”. So fine, I feel sorry in theory, but in general, too many homophobes in media across the board are written as gay and self-hating, that I’m not really a fan of the trope, regardless of who writes it.
Finally, there were some questionable age gaps in a few relationships. Like Drew and Briggs who are 20 and 40-plus (and also in a doubly questionable situation where Briggs is a guard at the camp and Drew one of the “campers”), and later, a character is described as dating an adult, when he’s a college freshman.
But I did manage to find a positive in all this, I will say. It’s a fairly extreme way of showing it, sure, but the book does show you that the whole “come out at all costs” mindset can be incredibly dangerous. I liked that it took a strong stance on that, especially hot on the heels of having read a book where two characters insisted that someone had to be out for them to be in their respective relationships. For me, this isn’t something you can equivocate about, so that message was great. And there’s a happy ending, which is even better.
Plus I learned that the phrase “rode hard and put away wet” has a massively different meaning for some people than it does for me.