Surrender Your Sons is a Young Adult thriller novel published in 2020 by author Adam Sass. This is his first novel.
Connor Major recently came out to his ultra-religious mother, by the urging of his boyfriend, something his mother isn't handling well at all. As Connor spirals into a depression by being forbidden to see his boyfriend and having his lines of communication cut, his mother takes desperation action to "fix" her gay son - she arranges for him to be "kidnapped" and sent away to Nightlight, a conversion therapy camp in Costa Rica. While at the camp, it becomes clear that Connor and the other queer kids are not safe at all and Connor becomes deeply embroiled in a decades-long conspiracy. It's up to Connor to bring the truth the light, and bring his fellow LGBTQ campers home.
While spoilers are marked, as this novel is a thriller, it's better to have not read this page until you finished reading the novel. You Have Been Warned.
This book contains the following tropes:
- Abusive Parents: Connor's mother, since divorcing his father has been emotionally abusive towards Connor, bordering on emotional neglect as she becomes a religious zealot and spends her time trying to get on Reverend Packard's good side and hangs on his every word. She disowns Connor at the end of the novel as well, leaving him to fend for himself on the streets for a few days. Subverted with the other parents of the campers, as they made a tremendously horrible mistake in sending the kids to Nightlight but once the kids escape from Nightlight, they embrace their kids' queerness, more or less.
- Alas, Poor Villain: Reverend Stanley Packard is killed by Bill, after the Reverend reveals to him that his son Ricky is dead in a particularly cruel setup. Despite being a murderer himself, Packard has been mentally and emotionally abused by his father for being gay, was sent to conversion therapy, and then made to keep the secret to keep Bill at the camp when he inherited Nightlight, despite the fact Bill nearly killed his own son Ricky (the only person who accepted Stanley for being gay) and killed his son's partner, a police officer and possibly a few other people. His psyche, by the end of the book, is barely hanging by a thread.
- Amicable Exes: Connor and Ario, despite Connor breaking up with him at the end of the novel. Ario helped search for Connor once he was kicked out of his home.
- Armor-Piercing Response: Also with an Armor Piercing Punch. Ben furiously blames the Reverend for Drew's "suicide," but gets socked in the stomach by him complete with a stinging observation: Drew was cleared to leave the camp, but Ben kept denying his release, because Ben didn't want to risk Drew leaving him forever. Ben can only start sobbing and tells Drew's dead body that he loves him.
- Armored Closet Gay: A given, considering the setting of the book. Ben Briggs and Reverend Packard are the straightest examples, though Ben had a relationship with Drew while on the island.
- Miss Manners, who keeps up a homely, inviting facade until she's made angry. She attacks Molly in a workshop class, scratching her cheek terribly, fires at Connor and his friends with a rifle, and is pretty overjoyed that she's the last leader standing at Nightlight, ready to inflict more pain on queer teenagers.
- Bill, who murdered his son Ricky's partner and then nearly murdered Ricky, and he murders several other people. It's clear that hiding away from the authorities and not being able to leave has affected his mental health severely.
- Reverend Packard, as years of having to pretend he's heterosexual, hating himself, as well as housing the killer who injured his cousin, made him the violent authoritarian he is today.
- Big Beautiful Man: Marcos is described as such, and Connor is smitten as soon as he sees him.
- Big, Screwed-Up Family: And how. Reverend Stanley Packard and his cousin, Ricky Hannigan were sent to Nightlight when they were teenagers in an attempt to cure them of their homosexuality; it was Stanley who ratted Ricky out after feeling guilty about being taken to a gay bar and enjoying himself. Soon after, Ricky purposefully estranges himself to his father Bill. Stanley was invited to Ricky's commitment ceremony, and he brings Bill along, in a misguided attempt to stop the ceremony. Afterwards, in a drunken homophobia-fueled stupor, Bills kills Ricky's husband and seriously injures Ricky to the point where Ricky cannot walk and spends the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Stanley and his father then wisk Bill away and hide him in the Nightlight camp, but Stanley (not forgiving Bill for what he did as well as resenting his own dad for making him hide his sexuality) kills his own father in an attempt to force Bill into a Mortons Folk situation where Bill can't seek help or else incriminate himself.
- Bittersweet Ending: Connor and the campers escape Nightlight with Bill in tow so he can face justice for his crimes, but the rest of the Nightlight staff escapes and are still at large with conversion therapy camps all throughout the world. Drew was murdered at camp, and his murderer Reverend Packard was killed by Bill, ending their sordid family story on a bad note. Worse yet, a Nightlight "truther-ism" campaign starts up online, something that Connor's mother gets sucked into, and she disowns Connor, after she claims he ruined her life and calls him a murderer. On the positive side, Connor is now thriving due to being away from his toxic mother and seeking help, he's in a relationship with Marcos, and he and Ario are on good terms. Most of the other kids that escaped are doing much better and are out and proud at home, and Connor now wants to team up with the FBI to find the Nightlight camps and end conversion therapy once and for all.
- Camp Gay: Downplayed with Connor, he has enough effeminate mannerisms, paints his nails, and has the typical gay interests (such as acting and musicals) for people to clock him, but that's about it. By his own admission, he's a bit of a slob - he was wearing the same pair of basketball shorts for days on end before his capture.
- Chekhov's Gunman:
- Ricky Hannigan was someone who Connor delivered Meals on Wheels too, due to Ricky being disabled but he is at the heart of the entire story, as he was a former camper at Nightlight and survived a hate-fueled murder from his own father. He even tries to warn Connor about Nightlight and tries to tell Stanley that it isn't too late to change by writing secret messages to them in Playbills.
- Bill seems like he's just a overenthusiastic counselor at the camp but the as the novel unravels, it's revealed a convict on the run/prisoner at Nightlight due to killing several people, including his son's partner.
- The Dragon: Ben Briggs, senior staff member at Nightlight who was the one to led the charge in abducting Connor and bringing him to the island. He was also a former camper, and his senior status led to the Reverend looking away as Ben had a tryst with Drew, a camper.
- Cure Your Gays: The book takes place at a conversion therapy camp in the middle of the jungle.
- Deadpan Snarker: Sometimes Connor can't just keep his big mouth shut, which gets him in trouble a lot at Nightlight.
- The Fundamentalist: Connor's mother, who after divorcing Connor's father went off into the deep end with religion and became a zealot.
- Gayngst: Natch. Most of the gay characters in the book deal with a degree of self-loathing, some are ostracized from their families for being gay, and the amount of gay characters that all well-adjusted can be counted on one hand.
- Gilded Cage: Nightlight is located in the middle of the beautiful, lush jungle but the kids at the camp cannot leave until they "graduate," a process that can takes months, sometimes years.
- Greater-Scope Villain: It turns out that the Packards did not own Nightlight but it's own by a different company with conversion camps all over the world.
- Harmful to Minors: There's quite a few kids between 12-14 at the camp, each going through the same brainwashing and abuse the older characters go through. And then they all see Drew being hanged from the watchtower.
- HeelFace Door-Slam: Connor seems to have reached the Reverend towards the end of the book by reminding him of Ricky's words about it not being too late to change, but then the Reverend is killed by Bill.
- Incompatible Orientation: Connor's mother is enamored with the Reverend, too bad the Reverend is a closeted gay man.
- Internalized Categorism: A recurring trope with most the prominent gay characters, trying to suppress their sexual/romantic urges; Connor suffers from this to a lesser extent, as he's just upset his homosexuality drove a wedge between him and his mother.
- MayDecember Romance: Ben (said to be in his late 40s/early 50s) and Drew (20 or 21 years old) are in a not-so-Secret Relationship at Nightlight.
- Never Suicide: At first, it appears Drew committed suicide from the watchtower, but then on closer inspection of his body, Connor sees that Drew had bruising around his neck and was bringing Connor and his friends more evidence against Nightlight.
- Nice Guy: Ario and Marcos, both of Connor's love interests. Marcos especially, who Connor describes as a puppy dog.
- No Bisexuals: Averted with Lacrishia, who is bisexual. Amusingly, during a marriage workshop, she remarks that she finds Connor attractive, but Miss Manners thinks she's trying too hard and coming on too strong. Darcy later tells Connor that Lacrishia is bi and legitimately finds Connor attractive; it's just that the camp has no idea what to do with Lacrishia as they see sexuality as either gay or straight.
- Transparent Closet: The Reverend doesn't hide his sexuality as well as he thought he did - he's still the subject of small town gossip.
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The plot is kicked off when Ario, Connor's boyfriend encourages Connor to come out to his mother, with disastrous results. Despite thinking that coming out would free Connor and he would be better off for it, Ario fails to consider just how different their lives and familial situations are and the dangerous position he put Connor in. Connor ends up breaking up with Ario at the end of the book due to this, as he can't quite forgive him for it.
- Villainous Breakdown: After Drew is murdered and hanged, Ben absolutely loses it, tries to revive him, before collapsing into grief. He's still a mess by the end of the novel, but he later helps Connor and escapes from the island with the group.