Surrender by Sonya Hartnett

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Surrender by Sonya Hartnett

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: As Gabriel lies dying, he goes back over his short life of just twenty years and his friendship with Finnigan, an arsonist and worse. There are no easy answers in this atmospheric novel. It's poetic, stark, angry and tragic.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: May 2017
Publisher: Walker
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1406368210

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Anwell lives with his physically abusive father - vicious corporal punishment for a minor infraction is a constant threat - and his mentally abusive mother who loses no opportunity to belittle her young son and express her disappointment in him. Anwell is not popular at school and his life at home is severely proscribed. So, when Finnigan appears, Anwell is grateful for a friend. Finnigan is strange and wild and full of a dark freedom. He doesn't even go to school.

Bewitched, Anwell confesses to Finnigan his darkest secret - how he is really to blame for the death of his disabled brother, Vernon. In return, Finnigan offers a pact - Anwell will become Gabriel and will always be good, while Finnigan will do all the bad things for him. And soon after that, the arson attacks begin. All over town, fires spring up and property is destroyed. And eventually Anwell realises that he must take drastic action to deal with Finnigan...

... Surrender opens with a twenty-year-old Anwell lying in his sickbed with the doctor murmuring to his aunt, Sarah, that death is not now far away. As he looks back over his life, Anwell tells the story of his relationship with Finnigan and the fires. Often delirious, he passes from past to present and sometimes he wishes for death, other times he fears it. Interspersed into Anwell's reflections are passages from Finnigan, largely in the present, as he too reflects on what brought them to this place.

Oh, good lord, I loved this stark and poetic novel. Presenting as a psychological thriller - how does Anwell come to be dying aged just twenty? Where are his parents? Is Sarah really his aunt? Were the arson crimes ever resolved? - it is also a story of a rite of passage and the adolescent rebellion against a restrictive and abusive upbringing. And again, it's a story of inner lives and mental health. It asks as many questions as it answers.

Sonya Hartnett is an unabashedly literary and poetic writer. Surrender is full of complex imagery and striking language. And yet it is also direct and simple so that it draws in the reader immediately and they too inhabit the claustrophobic world of Anwell and Finnigan. The book deals with some very difficult themes and it isn't an easy read but it is a powerful and absorbing one. It's angry and poetic and deeply, deeply affecting.


If Surrender appeals, you can find similarly stark and beautiful writing in The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan, The Bride's Farewell by Meg Rosoff and The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric. You might also enjpy The Hypnotist by Laurence Anholt.

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Buy Surrender by Sonya Hartnett at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Surrender by Sonya Hartnett at


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