Readers, quite often, accept storylines at face value and react emotionally. Some books even include additional resources that coincide with the given message or social justice cause. Thanks to the ease of the internet, these kids can access these websites and ultimately become involved with a smorgasbord of social justice groups.
Surrender Your Sons, by Adam Sass, is a fictional book about a homosexual teenager who was kidnapped and taken to Nightlight Ministries, a conversion therapy camp in Costa Rica, with no knowledge of what was happening to him. Connor’s mother, along with their preacher, arranged this.
Corporately, the camp staff could be defined as villainous. Connor's controlling preacher from home runs this camp. He murders one of the campers. (Inmates would be a more fitting word.) Towards the end of the book, this preacher is murdered by his uncle, the old man who lives in the watchtower. This man was the father of a former attendee of the camp. That camper later married (not legally) his boyfriend. Hours after the ceremony, his father murdered his son’s new “husband” and beat his son so badly that he was severely handicapped for the rest of his life. The father then murdered a patrolman. The preacher had hidden him on the island for all the years since then.
Connor, the protagonist, attended this camp for about 48 hours. In that time, he found the new love of his life, Marcos. They did manage to have sex in a cave before their miraculous escape. Initials were engraved in the cave walls by others who had found this same love den at this conversion therapy camp.
The FBI had been investigating these murders for years but were unable to solve the case. These kids were able to do the detective work, solve the mystery, and escape the island. The preacher was dead, the murderer was taken into custody, and the rest of the evil staffers fled to other countries where they could continue their “work” at other such camps across the world.
Connor’s mother is depicted as a Christian religious zealot. After the media blitz about the camp, she left town. “Last I heard, she’s holed up somewhere in Vegas, exchanging cash for coins at casinos.” (p 425) Connor’s old boyfriend had this to say about Connor’s mom:
“Your mom scares the SH#T out of me, Connor! . . . I’m an eighteen-year-old Muslim who had sex with her underage son, and she’s a MAGA lunatic! She could’ve called the cops on me right there. I’d be DONE, no college, nothing!” (p 408)
The Christians in this story are wicked, but Connor’s Muslim boyfriend’s mom is wonderful. After all, she accepts her son’s homosexuality and his relationship with Connor. The Islamic religion and their teachings about homosexuality are not brought into the discussion. Ario was Connor’s boyfriend up to the time Connor was kidnapped and taken to the island.
Kirkus Reviews honors Surrender Your Sons as one of the Best YA Books of 2020. The American Library Association named Surrender Your Sons as a Best First Novel for Youth in 2020.
Gabe Bergado wrote the article, “Surrender Your Sons Follows LGBTQ+ Teens Coming Together to Escape Conversion Therapy” for Teen Vogue in January of 2020, prior to the book’s September publication. Bergado writes that “Adam was inspired after watching a documentary called Kidnapped for Christ about a real-life conversion camp in the Dominican Republican that’s now closed.” [I have no way of knowing whether the intent was to use the word Dominican Republican for the benefit of the teens who may read this article or whether it was just a typo.] Julia Scheeres, author of Jesus Land, had been sent to Escuela Caribe, a religious reform school, along with her adopted brother. Her book addresses her time at the school. Scheeres is interviewed in this documentary.
Bergado writes, “There is no straight savior character in this story, and no adult can be trusted. These queer kids are saving and relying on each other.”
Philomel, an imprint of Penguin Books, “has bought, at auction, in a six-figure deal, North American rights to The 99 Boyfriends of Micah Summers, plus an untitled second book by Surrender Your Sons author Adam Sass. . . . Publication is set for fall 2022 and fall 2023, respectively . . .”
There is a link to Support Born Perfect on the main page of Adam Sass’s website.
In June 2014, the National Center for Lesbian Rights launched Born Perfect: The Campaign to End Conversion Therapy, by passing laws across the country to protect LGBT children and young people, fighting in courtrooms to ensure their safety, and raising awareness about the serious harms caused by these dangerous practices.
Another book that addresses conversion therapy is The Miseducation of Cameron Post, by Emily M. Danforth. The kids in this book attend the God's Promise camp. Mark, one of the attendees, ends up cutting his genitals multiple times and then pouring bleach over the wounds. His friend Adam reacts when Mark’s father arrives at the hospital:
"He sends him here, tells him that he’ll go to hell as a sodomite if he doesn’t fix himself. So the kid tries and he tries and you know what, he can’t, because it can’t f@#king be done, so he figures, I’ll just cut off the problem area. Great plan, Pops." (p. 389)
His friend, Jane, assures Adam that Mark’s father truly believes this is the only way to save his son from eternal damnation. Adam raises his voice:
“Yeah, well what about saving him from right now? What about the hell of thinking it’s best just to f@#king chop your balls off than to have your body somehow betray your stupid f@#king belief system?”
“That’s never what it’s about to those people,” Jane said, still calm. “All that’s the price we’re supposed to pay for salvation. We’re supposed to be glad to pay it.” (p. 389)
The Miseducation of Cameron Post was the winner of the 2012 Montana Book Award, the 2013 High Plains Book Awards for Best YA Novel and Best Woman Writer, Finalist for the 2013 Morris Award for a YA Debut Novel, and a finalist for the 2013 Lambda Award in LGBT Children’s/YA.
The Miseducation was also listed as an Amazon Best Teen Books 2012, Kirkus Best Teen Books, 2012, School Library Journal’s Best Books (Fiction) 2012, Booklist Books for Youth Editors’ Choice 2012, and the Boston Globe Best YA Books 2012. The Miseducation of Cameron Post is now a movie.
Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith, and Family, by Garrard Conley, is another book about a boy forced into making a choice “to attend a church-supported conversion therapy program that promised to ‘cure’ him of homosexuality; or risk losing family, friends, and the God he had prayed to every day of his life.” This book is now a major motion picture, too.
The 2019 young adult book, All Eyes on Us, by Kit Frick, is another conversion-therapy-gone-bad story. After three years of unsuccessful counseling at her Fellowship of Christ church, Rosalee’s parents send her away to Camp Eternal Light. Her parents took out a loan they couldn’t afford to send her there. The camp slogan is: DELIVERANCE THROUGH GOD’S DESIGN.
Pastor Ray is leading us sinners in prayer. I bow my head and pray for God to reset my moral compass (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). I pray that I might recognize my homosexual behavior as outside God’s plan (Romans 1:25-27, Leviticus 18:22, Genesis 2:24). I pray for the strength to live my life in conformity to scripture (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Timothy 1:9-10). I pray and pray, and beneath the words I say out loud, I pray for the strength to stay alive. The strength to lie. (p. 70 ebook)
Rosalee begins dating Carter so her parents will think that the conversion therapy worked. Rosalee's girlfriend is worried:
“ . . . You being with Carter—it’s not healthy. It’s, it’s . . .” Her voice trails off and her face twists up. “It’s sick that you have to do something so harmful to keep yourself safe.”
. . . My lies are my shield, protecting me from the kind of “therapy” I can never go through again. (p 77)
At the close of this book, the author writes about the ineffectiveness, as well as harm, that conversion or reparative therapy causes. She encourages “survivors” to share their stories with the Born Perfect Survivor Network. Resources are listed such as the Trevor Project, the LGBT National Help Center Youth Talkline, and the Childhelp National Abuse Hotline. She also directs the kids to the Southern Poverty Law Center “to learn about the SPLC’s work to protect the safety of LGBTQ+ youth.” (p. 367 ebook)
Adam Sass, the author of Surrender Your Sons, was interviewed by Dan Savage on the Savage Lovecast program, episode #732. The exchange between Savage and Sass begins at about the 27-minute mark. Adam Sass asserts that Conversion Therapy can happen anywhere, including in your own home. He says that when Connor, the protagonist of his story, was sent to the island, he realized that his Conversion Therapy had begun years ago. After all, his mom had used financial and emotional puppet strings to get him to be not who he is.
Dan Savage shares how he sometimes gets pushback from other queer activists about his hesitancy to encourage minors to come out. [Perhaps the “other queer activists” want the minors to come out early, because if they don’t, they may change their mind.] Savage “warn[s] young gay kids, young queer kids, trans kids, that coming out is not always the solution to [their] problems.” He says that coming out can introduce a whole new set of problems if your parents have complete authority over you.
Adam Sass brings up the point that kids can be on their family’s insurance until they’re 26. There are financial and social puppet strings. It’s all leverage, he adds.
Sass tells the audience that “you have to learn how to be a spy in your own home. You’re a double agent. . . . Do you hide your accounts [phone or computer?] and lie a little bit to get your college paid for, to get your car paid for?” He continues that Connor’s mom took his phone and WIFI away and he had no access to a car. Sass contends that since Connor was stranded at home, he was at risk even before kidnapped and taken to the island.
Savage chimes in that the queer kids he hears from are scared because they are dependent upon their parents financially, their parents are paying for college, and their parents have made it clear that they will cut them off. “They feel guilty that they are lying to their parents, and I always tell them: Do not feel guilty that you are telling a lie to your parents under duress. Your parents are responsible for you telling that lie. They are forcing you to lie to their faces. That is not on you. It’s on them. Take the college education, come out to them the day after you land your first job is my advice.
Yeah, don’t feel guilty for lying when you are under such duress. After all, you’ve possibly lost your phone, the internet, maybe a car, and college funding--the ultimate examples of duress.
What is the reader’s take away from reading books such as these?
Orientation is not a choice. They cannot change.
So, if it is fixed, how does it become fluid? Is a bisexual’s orientation fixed? Has anyone found that illusive homosexual gene? What about the multitudes who have left the homosexual lifestyle?
Christians are not nice people and not very bright. Connor’s mom was even a MAGA lunatic!
Were the examples of Christians in these books truly followers of Christ? Is a Christian parent who believes God’s Word about homosexuality automatically an unloving, cruel parent? Parents are there to lead, guide, and protect their children. "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6
Parents often place restrictions and set boundaries that have nothing to do with whether their child is LGBTQ+. That does not make a parent abusive. [Child abuse is another topic that is unfortunately very real in our society.]
Christianity has been redefined. Has the definition of Conversion Therapy been broadened to include anyone who tells a homosexual that his or her behavior is sinful? Legally, that is not the definition of Conversion Therapy, but will the readers believe that it is? After all, Connor realizes that his Conversion Therapy had begun at home—"After all, his mom used financial and emotional puppet strings to get him to be not who he is.” News flash: Parents are not obligated to keep their children on their insurance until their 26th birthday. They can, but they don’t have to. Neither do they have to pay for a car, a phone, a computer, or college.
Are these authors trying to portray a message that anyone who supports some form of Conversion Therapy is a deranged Christian? Contrarily, if Christians are against Conversion Therapy, does it necessarily mean that they approve of homosexual practices?
The big lie that is being perpetuated is that anyone who disapproves of LGBTQ+ practices is a hater. This manipulation isn't used in other matters. For example, a child with a drunk as a parent, may despise drinking, but they, most often, still love their parent. There are people in prisons who have committed heinous crimes with families that still love them, despite their grief over their loved ones despicable crimes. Disagreement is not hate.
They have to lie.
Really? According to a 2019 Open Doors article, 11 Christians are Killed Every Day for Their Decision to Follow Jesus. These true Christians didn’t lie, they weren’t cowards, and they were killed for following Jesus Christ. Many of the kids Savage and Sass were talking about were “forced to lie” to protect their financial interests. The Christians who died for their faith surrendered all.
Our children’s worldviews are being shaped. The only question is, “Who is doing the shaping?”
Have Thine own way Lord
Have Thine own way
Thou art the potter I am the clay
Mold me and make me after Thy will
While I am waiting yielded and still
Between the Covers: What's Inside a Children's Book?