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A Book Review of “Surrender” by Sonya Hartnett

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Rose is an enthusiastic writer and reader who publishes articles every Thursday. She enjoys all book genres, especially drama and fantasy.

“Surrender” by Sonya Hartnett

“Surrender” by Sonya Hartnett

What’s the Big Deal?

Written by Printz Honor Award-winning Australian author Sonya Hartnett, the entirety of Surrender is gorgeous, flowing, and seemingly effortless. Published in 2005 and capturing both teen and adult readers since, this is a book that you won’t be able to tear yourself away from. Its stunning language creates beauty even in things that are ugly—abuse, murder, arson, etc.—and the thrilling escapades that take place in the book will render you speechless with awe at every turn of the page.

Plot Summary

Surrender has to have the best opening ever: “I am dying: it’s a beautiful word. Like the long, slow sigh of a cello: dying. But the sound of it is the only beautiful thing about it.” Gabriel is a boy in a small country town—a 20-year-old ravaged by a harsh illness that eats away at him inside and out. The story opens with Gabriel, and a message carried on the wind that says, “the bones have been found.” Although we don’t know what this means at the beginning of the book, we come to realize that it spells disaster for the “dying creature on a bed.”

As Gabriel receives the message, he recognizes something that will happen because of it. Finnigan, a boy with whom he made a childhood pact, will come to visit him. This is news because it’s been a long time since Gabriel has seen Finnigan, as it isn’t every day a boy with no home but the wilderness would drop by to see you. Wild things, be they animal or human, aren’t to be tamed by anyone, and Finnigan, who roams the Australian mountains with his lawless dog, Surrender, is no different.

With nothing to do but lie in wait for the inevitable, Gabriel goes back to the far reaches of his memory over the course of many chapters. He recalls when he was only nine and met Finnigan for the first time. He remembers the pact they made, and how, when Finnigan grew angry and restless, he burned parts of the town and forest as revenge.

He remembers Evangeline, his first and only love, his harsh, relentless parents, and his brother who never made it past the age of ten. Eventually, with a series of quick, thought-provoking events, the reader becomes privy to the why of what’s taken place, and all becomes clear as Finnigan visits Gabriel on his sickbed for the final time—but, like any seemingly good thing, the truth may not be as favorable as it seems.

Quick Facts and Info

  • Author: Sonya Hartnett
  • Pages: 248
  • Genre: Psychological thriller
  • Reviews: 3.6/5 Goodreads, 4/5 Common Sense Media
  • Release Date: July 2005
  • Publisher: Penguin Club

To Read or Not to Read?

I recommend this book if:

  • You like poetry or poetic prose worthy of The Book Thief author Markus Zusak
  • You like books that take a little bit more thought than your average novel
  • Stories that transport you to another time and place are your thing—it’s very difficult not to get wrapped up in Hartnett’s vivid descriptions
  • You’re interested in books that you can read again and again and discover something new every time
  • You’re tired of reading the same old types of novels—if that’s true of you, this one will really be a breath of fresh air in its uniqueness.

My life was pouring out my feet and seeping through cracks in the floor; yet still I knelt and did not move, for fear she’d let go of my hands. Let me stay, I wanted to beg: please don't make me go.

— Sonya Hartnett, “Surrender”

Reviews

  • “This lyrical novel, a psychological thriller told in gorgeous prose poetry, has an ending worthy of M. Night Shyamalan, though considerably more confusing. That ending will have readers paging back through this bizarre story to try to figure out what was real, and what wasn't. And even then they won't find all the answers.” —Common Sense Media
  • “The pace of the novel is almost excruciatingly measured until the heart-stopping conclusion that, in retrospect, is manifest throughout the tale, attesting to the quality of the storytelling. Readers are left to grieve for an angel child, compassionately portrayed, engaged in a tug-of-war with evil and despair. Hartnett's novels may never reach the widest audience of young readers, but those who find her work will be moved by her gifted writing and the powerful changes her characters undergo.” —Publishers Weekly
Sonya Hartnett, the book’s author

Sonya Hartnett, the book’s author

The Takeaway

Have I read Surrender upwards of three times? Yes. Do I love it even more each time? Without a doubt. Although this novel won’t be for everyone, it’s one of my personal favorites. Since the first time I read it, the way I think and feel about everything around me has changed; I see fire and think of Finnigan—imagine him racing across the mountains, wild and independent—and I’m jealous of that kind of freedom. In hospitals, I’m reminded of Gabriel and the lighting he’d say would shoot through his chest, as if he were a real person I’d met and spoken to.

In short, I really, really loved this book. I loved its wacky storyline as well as the mesmerizing writing and vocabulary. I loved the way you sometimes couldn’t be sure of what was real and what wasn’t—if a conversation was held in someone’s head, or if it genuinely took place. And I love the way it keeps me thinking, for days after I’ve finished it: What if . . .? If you’re interested, you can buy the book here.