by Sonya Hartnett
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
As life slips away, Gabriel looks back over his brief twenty years, which have been clouded by frustration and humiliation. A small, unforgiving town and distant, punitive parents ensure that he is never allowed to forget the horrific mistake he made as a child. He has only two friends—his dog, Surrender, and the unruly wild boy, Finnigan, a shadowy doppelganger with whom the meek Gabriel once made a boyhood pact. But when a series of arson attacks grips the town, Gabriel realizes how unpredictable and dangerous Finnigan is. As events begin to spiral violently out of control, it becomes devastatingly clear that only the most extreme measures will rid Gabriel of Finnigan for good.
(synopsis from Goodreads)
Reading this book was a strange experience. I haven't read a story in quite a while that kept me guessing as much as this one did. Even after finishing it, I'm still not sure what actually happened. However, the ambiguity may be (partly) the point.
At first, Surrender reads a bit like a fictional memoir, with twenty-year-old Gabriel narrating from his sickbed. The story starts off as a lyrical portrait of life in small-town Australia, and we quickly come to realize that poor Gabriel doesn't exactly have an easy time of it. His parents are viewed as a bit "off" by the rest of the town and so, by extension, is their son. Making matters worse is a tragic mistake that Gabriel made when he was a small child, the consequences of which have never left him. For much of the book, I thought that I was reading contemporary fiction... but then certain things would happen that made me think we'd veered off into paranormal territory. The constant question of, "What is going on here?" haunted me throughout my reading of the book. Even at the end, when it seems like that question has been answered, the reader only has to look back to see that there are other unanswered questions... and things, once more, seem unclear.
The main character of note here is Gabriel (whose name is actually Anwell; the reasons for the pseudonym are addressed in the story). Although the chapter points of view alternate between Gabriel and Finnigan, the bulk of the story is seen through Gabriel's eyes. I suspected early on that Gabriel might not be the most reliable narrator, though I had no idea to what extent he was or wasn't. Even knowing this, I still wasn't expecting what happened in the last seven pages. Not that the twist was necessarily bad; I quite enjoyed being surprised.
As for the pace and writing of Surrender, you'll either love it or hate it. Most of the book plods fairly slowly, in often-flowery prose. While the writing evokes all the senses and paints a gorgeous picture of the surroundings, some readers might find it to be a bit much. Personally, I didn't mind the writing, and the pace didn't matter so much because the book wasn't terribly long; the parts that drag soon make way for ones that move along at an uptempo pace (especially toward the latter part of the story).
Make no mistake, though: this book has some dark themes. There are multiple deaths, some of them violent, and not all of them happen to human adults. Some readers may find the subject matter a bit too disturbing at times.
Overall, I enjoyed Surrender, even though it wasn't exactly what I was expecting. The only thing that I can really point to as a negative is that the ambiguous ending is going to keep me thinking about this book for a while.
Overall: 4 out of 5