Everything starts going wrong for Connor Major, 17, after he comes out of the closet. Instead of “saving his life” as his Iranian boyfriend Ario Navissi predicts, admitting that he’s gay puts Connor in danger. His “uber-religious” mother sends him away from Ambrose, Ill., to a conversion camp on an isolated island off Costa Rica run by her charismatic, tyrannical minister, Rev. Stanley Packard. At Nightlight Ministries, Connor witnesses cruel punishments and learns that everyone, campers and staff members alike, has dark secrets. He’s determined to get himself and all the campers off the island, but first he needs to gather enough evidence to get the camp shut down for good. Though the pacing feels off (on his first day at camp, Connor pieces together a sinister puzzle about Reverend Packard’s past, views a murder, falls in love with a cabinmate, and helps execute an escape plan), campers emerge as distinct individuals from varied backgrounds, facing challenges on and off the island. Those sensitive to violence and queer pain may wish to steer clear, but though this debut depicts extreme events, messages about struggles with internalized homophobia and the world’s treatment of those who are different ring true. Ages 14–up. Agent: Eric Smith, P.S. Literary. (Sept.)
"Hard to read story, hard-to-stop-reading writing."Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"An impressive, dynamic, and riveting debut!"Booklist, starred review
"Messages about struggles with internalized homophobia and the world’s treatment of those who are different ring true."Publisher's Weekly
"A must-have for high school collections that are looking to provide representation for all their students, especially those experiencing pain in their journey of coming out."School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Connor Major's boyfriend convinced him to come out to his mom before he was ready, despite his fear of her reaction. Instead of the acceptance and support he was hoping for, Connor, who is white, finds himself kidnapped in the middle of the night and brought to a religious conversion camp on an island. At Nightlight, which is run by the overbearing black-bearded Reverend from his hometown, Connor discovers the camp, which is run more like a prison with a dark past, is not what it seems, and he meets other teens who have been suffering at the hands of the camp's staff. Connor is desperate to save himself from the island and to uncover the truth of what the Reverend is hiding at Nightlight. This is a thriller with queer protagonists and villains, and as per the author's note, it is "not about queer pain" despite all of the queer characters in the book suffering at the hands of others. Representation matters, and many LGBTQ+ readers may see their own stories reflected in this novel. There are many slurs to be aware of in the text and the sexual content makes it more appropriate for older audiences. VERDICT A must-have for high school collections that are looking to provide representation for all their students, especially those experiencing pain in their journey of coming out.—Erica Coonelly, Monroe Township M.S., NJ
A hardscrabble antihero’s coming out lands him in an off-the-grid conversion camp.
Connor Major of Ambrose, Illinois, has quite a mouth on him. But when it comes to the rite-of-passage revelation to his single, hardcore Christian mother that he’s gay, he can’t find his words. At the behest of his boyfriend, Ario, Connor begrudgingly comes out, which is where the book begins. His rocky relationship with his mother is disintegrating, his frustration with exuberantly out Ario grows, accusations of being the absentee father of his BFF’s baby boy haunt him, and he gets violently absconded to a Christian conversion camp in Costa Rica. And that’s all before the unraveling of a mystery, a murder, gunshots, physical violence, emotional abuse, heat, humidity, and hell on Earth happen in the span of a single day. This story points fingers at despicable zealots and applauds resilient queer kids. Connor’s physical and emotional inability to fully find comfort in being gay isn’t magically erased, acknowledging the difficulty of self-acceptance in the face of disapproving homophobes. Lord of the Flies–like survival skills, murder, and brutal violence (Tasers, spears, guns) fuel the story. And secret sex and romance underscore the lack of social liberty and self-acceptance but also support the optimistic hope of freedom. Connor is White, as is the majority of the cast; Ario is Muslim.
Hard-to-read story, hard-to-stop-reading writing. (Fiction 14-18)