Surrender Your Sons is a brilliant story of queer resilience, trauma, and wrath—about believing in yourself, standing up for who you are, and your right to exist.
Sass does a remarkable job of introducing not only a relatable young, gay character, but one who was forced out of his privacy too soon and must now be subjected to the consequences thrust upon him. Connor Major isn’t yet comfortable in his own skin or with his own sexuality, but his boyfriend—who is—convinces him to come out to his overly religious mother. What ensues, to me, is utter tragedy. Beyond the obvious lack of acceptance, Connor now faces being sent to a conversion therapy camp.
As a mother, this book broke my heart in a dozen ways. As a human, this book broke my heart in a million more. What Sass accomplishes in Surrender Your Sons, is taking the endless years’ worth of queerphobia and discrimination, and turning it into the ultimate revenge and redemption story. This is a story of resilience and strength, but it’s also a story about survival, in more ones than one; it’s about surviving the hate directed at LGBTQ+ people (specifically children), surviving intrusive thoughts and self-doubt, surviving physical and psychological harm, and surviving the idea that you are somehow less because of who you are.
As with any story of redemption, the climb doesn’t come easily. There is blood, sweat, and tears involved in the characters rescuing themselves. Connor and the other campers at Nightlight Ministries have to claw their way out of both an oppressive location and an oppressive mindset. Campers highlighted range in “overs and unders,” which refer to minors of varying ages from 12-17. While some of the campers are browbeaten into accepting the inhumane conditions and “teachings,” others are all too aware of what Nightlight Ministries stands for.
Sass does an amazing job of portraying the fear and subsequent anger of the queer children subjected to the book’s conversion therapy camp. It’s rare that there is a YA book that focuses on the wrath of its queer characters, with most opting to highlight the (still needed) supportive found family and discovery of burgeoning new love. But while the world needs books about queer joy, it also needs books about queer fury. There is still so much hate and discrimination in this world, and it’s refreshing to see an appropriate response to that. It’s by no means an easy book. There’s trauma of every sort, but it’s not glorified or inserted for shock value. The things talked about in the different therapies are steeped in real experience, and it’s clear that Sass spent the time to learn about the practices and after-effects of conversion therapy.
Within all of the heavier details is a mystery that needs to be solved. Connor is determined to find out what happened to an ex-camper and acquaintance, and battles that need for knowledge versus his instinct to survive. The breadcrumbs left behind make this an intriguing mystery to follow and adds a layer to a story already steeped in drama of every sort. Sass weaves these elements together in a way that doesn’t detract from either thread of the overall story, and makes the book quick-paced and suspenseful.
In the end, as can be expected, I ended up a blubbering mess. It would be impossible not to feel a wide range of emotions with a book like this. The ending is bittersweet, realistic, and honestly a very welcome change in the genre. Surrender Your Sons is a book that will stick with you and, I hope, inspire awareness and action. There are still conversion camps throughout every corner of the globe. As of 2021, 22 states and 4 U.S. territories still have no laws banning conversion therapy. 3 states are in current jurisdiction to prevent enforcement of conversion therapy. There are currently 69 countries that have laws criminalizing homosexuality, some where the punishment is death. Surrender Your Sons is needed. There should be more books depicting the gut-reactions you most likely felt reading those statistics. We still need books that show queer kids and adults falling in love and being normal, accepted human beings…but we also need books that show queer kids and adults standing up for their right to exist, to love, and to live.
For more information on conversion therapy and what you can do to support the movement and take action, please visit BornPerfect.org. If you are in the United States, you can also find what states and territories have laws protecting (or discriminating against) LGBTQ+ citizens at LGBTQ Map. For United States specific statistics of conversion therapy laws, head here.