Surrender

surrenderI had never heard of Sonya Hartnett until A Devoted Reader blogged about Hartnett’s novel Of a boy (aka What the Birds See) back in March. What she said sounded so good that I put Hartnett on my TBR list immediately, and when I went, list in hand, to the library, Surrender was the first novel of hers that caught my eye.

This book was shelved in my library with young-adult fiction, but I believe it defies categorization of that kind. It has the feeling about it that the best books have, of not being written with any particular readership in mind. It would resonate with teenagers — the emotions are spot-on — but in other ways, it’s a profoundly adult novel, veering into territory of madness, grief, loss, psychological scarring, fear, and fragility.

As the book opens, Gabriel is dying, only twenty years old. He coughs up blood and lies racked with pain, cared for only by his aunt Sarah. In a series of flashbacks, we see his childhood: his cold, unpredictable, abusive parents, his humiliations at school, his constant fear. Into this terrible and terrifying life comes the wild boy, Finnigan. Finnigan sleeps rough, takes what he wants, cares for no one. After Gabriel forms a tentative friendship with this feral child, they make a pact: Gabriel will always be good, do only good things. Finnigan will be bad, always take the dark road, the evil path. They are linked by the beloved dog they share, named Surrender.

As the years go by, Gabriel’s town is visited by violence: sheep-killing, pet-killing, and worst of all, a series of fires that half-destroy the town. The townspeople are mystified, but Gabriel knows how dangerous Finnigan can be. He begins to realize that he will never be able to live a normal life if he cannot break his pact with his blood-brother, but he knows what kind of sacrifice it will require to break it.

I was amazed at how good this book was. It’s terribly dark and sad, so if you’re looking for something uplifting, this is not your bag. But Hartnett carves the characters of Gabriel and Finnigan, angel and wild man, with incredible finesse. Even the dog, Surrender, is a perfect character. Hartnett never goes for the easy sentimental touch or the quick sympathy. The suspense, the tenderness, and the compassion of this novel are powerful and profound, and even though I thought I understood what was happening, the ending was still a jaw-dropping surprise for me. I cannot recommend this more highly, and I plan to look for more from this author very soon.

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6 Responses to Surrender

  1. adevotedreader says:

    I was also amazed by Hartnett when I read her for the first time this year, and agree she is very skillful at eliciting compassion and maintaining suspense.

    In my enthusiasm I bought quite a few of her book- including Surrender- which I now am looking forward to even more.

  2. litlove says:

    Wow – this sounds incredibly powerful. Have you read Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now? I know that was classified as YA (a genre I generally don’t read much) and it nearly tore my heart out. I’ll have to look out for this one.

  3. Jenny says:

    Devotedreader — thank you so much for the recommendation! As you can see, I loved this book, and will certainly be looking forward to more. I’m intrigued by the way her books seem to straddle the artificial classifications marketers put books into.

    Litlove — I think any thoughtful reader would like this book. Definitely keep it on your list.

  4. sdechantal says:

    This does sound really good. Thanks for reviewing!

    One Persons Journey Through a World of Books

  5. Jenny says:

    sdechantal — Let me know what you think of it if you read it, and thanks for stopping by!

  6. Laura says:

    I loved this book also, more I think than ‘Of a Boy’. Have you read another Australian author, Margot Lanagan? She has written several collections of short stories and a YA novel. ‘Black Juice’ is especially good, in particular a story called ‘Singing My Sister Down’… heart wrenching!

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