Surrender was a sad, creepy book. Like, creeeepy. In some respects - and as the synopsis might have you believe - it is a book about a friendship thatSurrender was a sad, creepy book. Like, creeeepy. In some respects - and as the synopsis might have you believe - it is a book about a friendship that both acts to heal the loneliness that comes with being an "outsider" in a small-town, and acts as a catalyst for mischeivous things to occur.
Alternating between the two points-of-view, present-tense narrator, Finnigan (bad boy), and reflective narrator, Gabriel (good boy), Surrender is part-mystery, part literary-fiction, and - at the end - part-thriller. The prose is very swirly and descriptive - at times overly so, in my opinion. The writing can be beautiful, but sometimes so overwrought that events can become confusing for the reader. Not "good" confusing - an intentional dreamlike, narrative device. But, confusing-confusing - like, "wait, what just happened? I'm 20 pages in and have no sense of time, place, setting, character..." The style warms to you after awhile, but the lines of description certainly could've used a bit of breathing room.
I didn't feel this was a book about friendship. No, Finnigan and Gabriel aren't two unlikely friends bashing around the woods together, helping one another through hard times, and playing with their dog. It is a book about desperation. The fear of being isolated. Of not being touched. Not a book about friendship itself, but of longing, maybe, for a friend. And getting something literally terrible in its place.
Instead, I felt this book is mostly about shame. Yup, it's about swallowing a mean, burning-hot rock of shame and letting it live in your belly for thirteen years. It's about what that shame turns into, and what a person burdened by guilt and trauma is capable of when that shame hurts too badly.
At times, it seems Surrender is about our responsibility to our natures: who we think we are, what we think we're capable of, how we act on our desires - whether they are for security, food, revenge. But, it is also about who is "observing" us doing it. Who we imagine seeing us when we thought no one was watching. A novel of surveillance. See: Finnigan surveying the town from atop the mountains and hills. See: Gabriel glancing behind himself with the feeling of being watched.
Surrender is also about the terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad way that human beings can diminish, break, and destroy other human beings. Not a dirty-quick-Bang!-type of "destroy;" but a slow, patient, methodical, deliberate kind of destruction...one that can occur in almost full-view of the whole town watching. Reading Surrender is like watching abuse take place, and flinching, and trying to look away, and not being able to.
When I say "trying to look away, and not being able to," I do not mean to imply that Hartnett writes about abuse exploitatively. The abuse, or graphic scenes (there are a few of these, look out!), depicted in Surrender are not train-wreck moments. They are deep, compassionate, expressive moments of exposition and characterization, handled gracefully by the author.
To be honest, I don't know that too many readers would enjoy Surrender. It is dark. Almost hopeless. Sad. It bummed the shit out of me. But, it is well-done overall. Hey - it won a Printz Honor, and is considered one of the "best book[s] written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit." Still - after reading (and thoroughly enjoying) Tender Morsels, another Printz Honor Book, itself filled with vivid, gruesome revenge scenes, I find myself wondering if one of the qualifications for a Printz Honor is a "holy-mutherfuckin-shit-seriously-did-that-just-happen-yuck!" reaction.
I mean - I finished Surrender at 12:38 up all alone in my apartment, and I was convinced I was going to have nightmares at the end scenes (view spoiler)[Vernon at the window! Vernon on the bed! (hide spoiler)]. Do the Printz judges think teenagers can only be moved by horrible violence that gives you the heebies before you go to sleep?["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more