Study Guide

Surrender Themes

By Sonya Hartnett

  • Mortality

    We're not spoiling anything when we tell you that there's death in Surrender since, you know, the story opens with Gabriel on his deathbed. Yet it's not really the narrator's location that preoccupies our minds with mortality—nope, Gabriel and his story accomplish that all on their own. So whether he's lamenting his wait for Evangeline before he departs, or detailing the death-by-hatchet both his parents received, or recounting the day he was forced to shoot his own dog, death haunts the pages of this book.

    As for Gabriel's decision to die? Well, we'll let you weigh out the merits of that one for yourselves.

    Questions About Mortality

    1. What does Gabriel think about death? How does his description of himself on his deathbed in the beginning compare to his reluctance to die later on?
    2. Why does Gabriel will himself to die? What does he think his death will accomplish?
    3. How is death discussed when Vernon dies? What about when his parents die? Is there a difference between how their deaths are treated, and how Gabriel approaches his own death?
    4. How does Finnigan feel about death? What does this tell us about how Gabriel secretly feels about it as well?

    Chew on This

    Gabriel claims to have a death wish for moral reasons, but he's really just sick of living his miserable life.

    The fact that Finnigan fears death shows us that secretly, Gabriel does as well, even if he won't admit it to himself.

  • Memory and the Past

    It's no surprise that memory and the past are a big deal in a book that's largely told through flashbacks. Without Gabriel's memory, the book would pretty much consist of him lying in a hospital bed, sick—Surrender definitely wouldn't be much of a page turner, then. The only problem with relying on Gabriel memory? We're not sure whether we can trust it. Memory is a fickle business, even for the most honest of us, so mix in Gabriel's deceitfulness and manipulation, and we've got a recipe for disaster.

    One of the most mysterious aspects of the novel is figuring out which parts of Gabriel's twisted, intertwined memories are real, and which are just in his head. Yeah, he's one unreliable narrator.

    Questions About Memory and the Past

    1. Gabriel tells us that he's been "remembering" all day. Why do you think he phrases it like that? Is his memory something that comes naturally to him, or something that has to be forced?
    2. Is Gabriel driven by a memory of the past, or is he all about the future? Why are his memories so important to him?
    3. Do we believe Gabriel's memories? Can we trust that he is telling us the truth about what happened? How do you think the story would differ if it were told from someone else's perspective?
    4. If Gabriel truly doesn't care about the past or his life, why does he spend so much time replaying it in his mind? Is he merely sharing his story, or trying to prove something?

    Chew on This

    Gabriel is unable to live in the present and confront what he's done, so he constantly lives in his memories of the past.

    Even though Gabriel claims not to care about his life, he cares about preserving his memories because they're all he has left.

  • Good vs. Evil

    In case you haven't noticed, Marvel has cashed in on the whole good-versus-evil thing. There's a plethora of superhero movies out there, and all of them boil down—in one way or another—to this duel between dark and light. In fact, we challenge you to find a superhero film without this concept. But we digress.

    In Surrender, Finnigan and Gabriel try to create their own version of the superhero roles by making a pact that sets Gabriel up to only do good stuff, while Finnigan does everything bad. It sounds simple enough, but we're not sure it ends up that way for the two guys. In fact, this book arguably takes the good versus evil debate and turns it on its head, since in the end, we know Finnigan and Gabriel are one and the same.

    Questions About Good vs. Evil

    1. Gabriel promises to only do good, but does he stick to this? What does he do that's bad? Why do you think he does these things?
    2. The pact is based on the premise that someone can be all good or all bad. Do you think this is realistic? Do you know anyone in real life who fits into either of these categories?
    3. When we find out the truth about Gabriel and Finnigan (that they are the same person), how does this change the pact? What does it say about their idea to do good or evil exclusively?
    4. In the end, does good or evil "win"? How do you interpret Gabriel's death?

    Chew on This

    Since Gabriel and Finnigan are the same person, and Gabriel kills himself in order to end Finnigan's reign of terror, evil wins in this book.

    In his decision to kill himself, Gabriel ultimately ushers good to victory. Evil loses because Gabriel sacrifices himself for the greater good.

  • Love

    It might be true that only fools rush in, but that rarely stops people from diving into love. And this is totally the case for Gabriel in Surrender: He goes from zero to sixty with his feelings for Evangeline in no time. Man, if only someone would tell him this is foolish…

    Oh wait, Finnigan does warn him, but Gabriel doesn't listen. He is dead-set on his feelings for Evangeline, even if she doesn't reciprocate them. But speaking of reciprocation, here's the funny thing about it: Gabriel never gives Evangeline the chance to respond to how he feels, since he's too scared to tell her. So who knows? She might have felt the same way about him. And if he'd opened himself up to love, well, then we just might have a very different book in our hands.

    Questions About Love

    1. How do you think Evangeline feels about Gabriel? Is Finnigan right about her feelings, or is Gabriel?
    2. What does Gabriel love about Evangeline? Is he only interested in her because she's the only girl who pays attention to him, or is it something else?
    3. How does love look with the other characters in the book? Do Gabriel's parents demonstrate love for him or Vernon? How about each other?

    Chew on This

    Gabriel doesn't understand love because his parents never showed him what it looks like.

    Even though Finnigan isn't trustworthy, he does know best when it comes to Evangeline. It's clear that she doesn't love Gabriel the way he loves her.

  • Versions of Reality

    Gabriel doesn't start the fires, Finnigan does. He's happily sleeping at home when the matches are lit and the forest is burned… or is he? One of the most thrilling aspects of Surrender is that we're never sure which version of reality is truth, and which is fiction.

    Sure, we might chalk this up to the fact that a lot of the narrative is told to us in a series of flashbacks, and memory is always subjective—but in this book, it's more than that. Gabriel purposely leaves certain details out so we read through the story in a specific way, believing he's the goodie two-shoes, while Finnigan is the bad guy. Once we learn the truth about how the two of them are connected, though, we can't help but question everything.

    Questions About Versions of Reality

    1. How many distinct realities are there in the novel? Is Gabriel's reality different than Finnigan's or those around him? How so?
    2. Does Finnigan know he's a part of Gabriel? Why or why not? Why does Gabriel tell us what happened through Finnigan?
    3. They say hindsight is 20/20. Is this true for Gabriel? Does he view the past as reality, or wish he could change reality?
    4. Whose version of reality is easiest to believe in? Why?

    Chew on This

    Gabriel creates Finnigan to make his reality seem less despicable—his alter ego is a way for him to separate himself from what he has done.

    The alternate versions of reality allow us to feel the same thrill and mystery as the rest of the characters in the book.

  • Revenge

    Revenge might be a dish best served cold, but for Finnigan in Surrender, it comes in all varieties. The guy has no problem serving up a platter of stolen property or arson anytime he feels like it, and while he claims to do all this in the name of revenge, the regularity with which he seeks revenge kind of suggests he just likes being bad. As Gabriel points out, sometimes Finnigan's victims haven't even done anything to him. Finnigan, however, maintains that his evil plans are all about vengeance for wrong doing. We're not convinced, but word on the street is it isn't a good idea to cross him.

    Questions About Revenge

    1. What motivates Finnigan to take revenge? How does he choose his targets?
    2. How does Gabriel respond to Finnigan's malicious vengeance? How does knowing Gabriel is actually Finnigan change our perspective on his outlook?
    3. Who does Gabriel want revenge against? Who does Finnigan want revenge against? Do they ever oppose one another? Why?

    Chew on This

    Gabriel wants to get back at everyone who has ever slighted him in the smallest way, regardless of what he tells Finnigan to the contrary.

    Finnigan claims he is out for revenge, but really, he's just out for blood. He mocks the idea of vengeance by pretending to care about it.

  • Spirituality

    You might not expect spirituality to come up in a novel about revenge and murder, but somehow it does. In fact, Surrender uses a lot of spiritual language and concepts to get its point across. Don't believe us? Think about the fact that Anwell chooses Gabriel as his name because of the Biblical character. Or the idea that Evangeline is holy because that's how her name sounds. Whether we expect it or not, spirituality is a big part of Gabriel's journey. It helps him explain himself to us, and allows him to connect with people in a way that he couldn't otherwise.

    Questions About Spirituality

    1. Try to identify all of the spiritual references in the novel. Are they used at specific times or by certain characters?
    2. Why do you think Gabriel turns to spirituality when he doesn't care about church? What's the difference to him?
    3. How do other characters treat Gabriel's spirituality? How does Finnigan's notion of the earth and the trees tie in with Gabriel's idea of life?

    Chew on This

    Gabriel appropriates spiritual language in order to seem more appropriate and good. In reality, though, this is just another way he fools people into believing he's someone he's not.

    Finnigan connects with Gabriel through spirituality because both of them have an understanding about souls and bodies that no one else shares around them.

  • Fear

    You might not be afraid of the big, bad wolf, but chances are that you are afraid of Finnigan. And you wouldn't be the only one—even Gabriel is scared of his alter ego. What's more? He's scared about how Finnigan makes him behave and think. And we can't say we blame him. Finnigan may be a part of him and all, but he's still one scary dude who sets fires and takes stuff from people just for the heck of it. We're shaking in our boots, too.

    But Finnigan's not the only source of fear in Surrender. Throughout the novel, Gabriel realizes that he's deathly afraid of many people in his life—including his parents—and ultimately decides to get rid of them because of this fear. Gabriel just doesn't want to be scared any longer.

    Questions About Fear

    1. Is fear ever useful for Gabriel or Finnigan? Do they use it to get their way or help themselves? Can it be a good thing?
    2. Who is Gabriel afraid of the most? What does this tell us about his relationships and himself?
    3. How do the townsfolk's fears cause problems for Finnigan and Gabriel? If people didn't rally to find the arsonist, do you think they would have as many problems in their relationship with one another?

    Chew on This

    Finnigan is Gabriel's response to a childhood filled with fear.

    It is only when Gabriel steps into his power—the power to die—that he stops living in fear.