This isn’t a review so much as it is an essay response to the fantastic book Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass.
In June 1977, Dade County, Florida voters voted to repeal the county’s gay rights ordinance after a successful smear campaign by anti-gay activist Anita Bryant. Bryant then took her group, called Save Our Children, to other communities to repeal gay rights laws and to pass oppressive legislation against LGBTQ+ rights.
In June 1977, Harvey Milk announced his campaign for Board Supervisor in San Francisco. That night, he gave the first version of his Hope speech. He said, “And the young gay people in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias and the Richmond, Minnesotas who are coming out and hear Anita Bryant on television and her story. The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right” (Milk, 1977).
And that’s what Surrender Your Sons is all about. Hope.
After Connor’s boyfriend pressures him into coming out to his very religious mom, a cold war begins between him and his mom. She confiscates his phone and restricts access to any Internet source. He’s allowed to continue his Meals on Wheels job until his client Ricky Hannigan dies.
And then his mom gives him back his phone. He immediately senses something is wrong and texts his boyfriend that he thinks she’s going to kick him out. His boyfriend doesn’t answer. And that night, Connor is kidnapped from his bed (with his mom’s permission) and taken to a religious conversion therapy camp on an island off the coast of Costa Rica.
But Connor is ready to fight like hell. And in doing so, he discovers a decades-old mystery that might be the one to finally take down the camp.
Although a novel that involves conversion therapy, especially one at a camp that is running off the grid and uses physical punishment and isolation practices, seems like it would be a dark novel, I found it full of light despite the dark moments—or perhaps because of the dark moments.
Why? Because there’s hope.
Through Surrender Your Sons, Sass writes a compelling thriller that infuses hope onto every single page. No doubt the circumstances these characters are in are bleak. But it’s so filled with hope.
We don’t live in a post-homophobic United States. Although some LGBTQ+ persons find immediate acceptance, this is not the reality for everyone. And even with immediate acceptance, there’s still the reality that homophobia exists and sneaks up in unexpected ways at times. Once again, “Save Our Children” trends on Facebook and Twitter. Under the guise of human trafficking and pedophilia, many using the hashtag equate LGBTQ+ individuals to pedophiles in attempts to strip away hard-fought for rights and in attempts to sow hatred against LGBTQ+ individuals. In 2018, 1 in 5 hate crimes reported in the U.S. were related to anti-LGBTQ+ crimes. As of writing, 20 states ban conversion therapy. 30 states still allow it. And in those 20 states that ban it, there are some with religious exemptions; as long as someone isn’t acting as a psychologist, this is allowed in some states such as Utah which has a conversion therapy ban. And as Sass points out, conversion therapy does NOT have to be a formal practice to still be considered conversion therapy. And it can still be just as psychologically damaging, even when a person does it to themselves.
But yet there’s hope.
People carve out places where they are accepted and loved for who they are. They experience found families. That doesn’t mean the pain goes away, but there’s still joy.
And that’s what Surrender Your Sons is all about. Sass says in the author note that the book is not about queer pain; it’s about what queers do with pain.
It’s about fighting back against those who hate who you are.
It’s about finding reasons to keep going when those who are supposed to love and fully accept you reject you and harm you instead.
It’s about finding those who love you for who you are.
It’s about finally loving yourself for who you are after you were made to hate yourself.
It’s about hope.