Thursday, March 8, 2007
Surrender, by Sonya Hartnett
The first book on my journey to understand the contemporary world is the 2007 Printz Award Honor Book Surrender, by Sonya Hartnett. Surrender was a great selection. It is one of the most frightening and compelling books that I have ever read (reassuringly, this is an instance of the cover being a very good indicator of the type of narrative contained inside).
My booktalk below gives some of the details related to the scene or situation that generates much of the action and suspense in this novel. However, what is really provocative about Surrender is the plot that follows from this situation. Basically, Hartnett creates a complex relationship between the main character, Anwell, and a "friend" named Finnegan. Through this relationship, Hartnett explores the meaning of isolation and friendship, and what it means to live in a world full of ghosts and terror (interestingly, the setting is Australia--Hartnett is Australian--but the setting for Surrender could be any rural environment in the developed world).
Surrender would be a terrific book to teach in 9th or 10th grade, and maybe even 8th grade, in juxtaposition with other suspenseful narratives such as ones written by Edgar Alan Poe. But the book also stands on its own; it is beautifully written, has lots of religious imagery, and contains subtle commentary on social problems in the contemporary world. The ending is guaranteed to produce energetic debate and discussion. This is a rare novel that will be read and enjoyed by both struggling and advanced readers.
I personally would think carefully about giving this book to a younger middle school student, especially ones who may not be comfortable with psychological suspense and horror. There are some violent incidents--nothing terribly bloody--but the telling is relentless in its darkness and gravity. Young adolescents and pre-adolescents will be drawn to the book; if this happens, I suggest asking them to postpone their reading, or engaging them in conversation about it. There is a lot to talk about.