Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Surrender Book Poster Image
Lyrical, award-winning thriller is complex; read with teens.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 3 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Families who read this book together will enjoy discussing what they think actually happened, and what didn't. The vocabulary will push teen readers.

Positive Messages

Readers will be struck by the hardships that Gabriel must deal with -- and how his brain decides to deal with them.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Readers will pity the tortured Gabriel, who eventually realizes he must stop Finnigan.


One of the narrators seems to be dying of a gruesome degenerative disease, which is described in some detail. Murder with a hatchet, arson, the shooting of a dog. Children are beaten with belts and sticks by parents. A child accidentally kills his disabled brother by putting him in an unused refrigerator.


Mild fantasies.


One use of "s--t."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teen smoking, beer drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that one of the protagonists in this award-winning read is apparently dying of a gruesome degenerative disease, and as a child accidentally killed his disabled older brother -- and may have killed his parents as well. The other protagonist is an arsonist. There is some smoking and drinking.  The language and ideas are compelling -- but tricky for younger teens. Parents may want to read with their kids and discuss the book together.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 13-year-old Written bysurrender_fan1 June 30, 2010

Amazing Book

I loved this book and i feel that it teaches teenagers many importaint life lessons on love friendship and death.Although partially gruesome, i believe that tee... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byJesse LaDuc June 8, 2011

A Really Good Book

The psycological thriller Surrender by Sonya Hartnett is very entertaining. The protagonist, Anwell, is dying at the age of 20. He remembers his short life and... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byO.B March 23, 2011


i read surrender first when i was twelve and again when i was 13. i understood SO much more the second time! it was an amazing book but for teenagers because... Continue reading

What's the story?

In alternating chapters, as Anwell/Gabriel is dying, he and Finnigan tell their story. Anwell lives a restricted life with his frigid mother and controlling father. Even at a young age he harbors dark secrets: he accidentally killed his disabled older brother, possibly with his mother's complicity. When he meets a wild boy, Finnigan, who seems to live in the forest, he is enthralled. Finnigan seems to know all the secrets of their small town, including Anwell's, and they make a pact -- they will be mirror images of each other. Anwell will always be good, while Finnigan will be bad. Since Anwell will be an angel, Finnigan calls him Gabriel. Soon a series of arsons begins tearing the town apart, and only Gabriel knows who the arsonist is. Finnigan is fulfilling his part of the bargain, and the victims are those whom Gabriel doesn't like. His father leads a group of vigilantes to try to stop the arsonist, not knowing that his son is involved. But as they grow up, Gabriel, though fearful, begins to chafe under Finnigan's control, as well as his parents'.

Is it any good?

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.

Tolerance for ambiguity, then, is one of the prerequisites for enjoying this book. The author has said she doesn't really write for children. There's not much that would be considered objectionable for teens, but it won't be to all of their tastes. At the same time, many adults will enjoy SURRENDER, and shouldn't miss it because it's being sold in the children's section -- with shimmering prose, a uniquely strange plot, and that surprising, confusing ending, this will be a joy to some and frustrating to others.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the audience for this book. The author has said she doesn't really write for children -- who do you think this book is for? Why do you think it was published as Young Adult rather than for adults? 

  • This book won a Printz honor book from the American Library Association. Why do you think it was singled out for an award? Does it make a difference to you?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills and suspense

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