Author: Emily M. Danforth [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Standing: Stand alone novel.
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBT
Published: February 7th, 2012 by Balzer & Bray
Format: Hardcover; 480 pages.
Source: Borrowed from my local library.
Challenge: Completely Contemp Challenge/Debut Author Challenge
When Cameron Post’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief she’ll never have to tell them that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl.As young adult readers, it’s somewhat rare for us to run into a book that’s more than 400 pages long, and when we do, I feel like those books fall into one of three categories. There are those lengthy YA books that are so engrossing and quick paced that you just gobble them up without ever noticing the length (see Grave Mercy), there are those that you feel could have had 100+ pages cut and have been better for it (see Partials), and then, there are those that are worth consuming slowly, taking in each word and phrase as it comes because every one of them has been carefully considered and placed to enrich the story. The Miseducation of Cameron Post is this third kind of book. I’ll admit I was intimidated by its girth, but I found every moment that I spent reading filling me up in a way that hearty wheat bread can fill your belly--with nourishment and substance.
But that relief soon turns to heartbreak, as Cam is forced to move in with her conservative aunt Ruth. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and not making waves, and Cam becomes an expert at this—especially at avoiding any questions about her sexuality.
Then Coley Taylor moves to town. Beautiful pickup-driving Coley is a perfect cowgirl with the perfect boyfriend to match. To Cam’s surprise, she and Coley become best friends—while Cam secretly dreams of something more. Just as that starts to seem like a real possibility, her secret is exposed. Ultrareligious Aunt Ruth takes drastic action to “fix” her niece, bringing Cam face-to-face with the cost of denying her true self—even if she’s not quite sure who that is.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a stunning and unforgettable literary debut about discovering who you are and finding the courage to live life according to your own rules.
Now, I’ll admit, a lot of my attachment to The Miseducation of Cameron Post arose from the fact that this book, more than any other I have ever read, exemplifies my childhood. If you want to know what it was like growing up in small town Wyoming in the 90s, not too far from Billings, Montana--it’s not all that different from growing up in small town Miles City, not too far from Billings, Montana. Cameron and I went to the same mall to do school shopping, we stop at the same airport, and more importantly, our towns share the same businesses, people, and atmosphere. I cannot tell you how badly I was craving Taco Johns every time it was mentioned, and I am so sad for all of you that don’t live in the mountain states and know its glory (you know, as glorious as a Mexican fast food chain can be). When Emily M. Danforth wrote of thunderheads gathering on the horizon, I could smell it, and feel the hot, dry summer air. We played with firecrackers, bought gas at Conoco, bought crafts at Ben Franklin’s, we had kids wearing those blue FFA jackets at school; to this day I miss Schwan’s single-serve pizzas and push pops. I further bonded with Cameron because we were both swimmers who hung out largely with boys, and had lost parents at twelve (thankfully, in my case, not both). Despite what I felt was a very personal attachment to this book, I don’t think you need to have one to enjoy it. Danforth creates such a strong image of Miles City, and God’s Promise, that any reader will feel immersed.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a coming of age story in the truest sense of the term. We follow Cameron from the time that she is twelve, until she is seventeen (or near enough). I loved seeing Cameron come into her own as a person, realize who she was, and fumble with her sense of self in the same way that every teen experiences. For Cameron, much of this is focused on the fact that she is a lesbian, but it didn’t have to be--this story would have been just as compelling if she’d been strait. Certainly, this book will speak to any teens who feel trapped in a situation, their family, their town, and need to find themselves to decide how best to manage their future. I am not meaning to diminish the importance of The Miseducation of Cameron Post as a work of LGBT literature, merely stating that I think this is a work that could influence anyone, the LGBT aspect is not the only way readers will relate to this book.
Cameron Post herself is one of my new literary best friends. I love this girl. She’s a bit of a klepto, which I never understood, but other than that we bonded hard core. I love that to her, her sexuality isn’t a choice, a political statement, or a counter-culture movement--it’s just who she is. So many adults in her life reacted to her as if she were acting out, when in reality she was just being a kid, and being who she was. The sad fact that those she loved most had no idea how to love those parts of Cameron they didn’t agree with or understand broke my heart.
I think it is easy for those many people who live in very liberal areas to look unkindly and with harsh judgement at evangelical Christians such as much of Cameron’s town. When you only experience these people through the bubble that is media, and not through personal experience, it becomes so easy to write them off as horrible people because of their judgements on homosexuals. This has always been a tough position for me. Much of my hometown, and many people that I love dearly share these views. Their adamant belief that homosexuality equates to damnation doesn’t change the fact that they are often wonderful, caring, heartfelt people. What Cameron’s family does to her, they do because they are trying to help, and because they love her. I can respect that, and so can Cameron. That doesn’t make it right, but I appreciate so much that Emily M. Danforth did strive to show these people as caring, and helpless to understand because of their beliefs. There was no outspoken rebellion against Christianity in general, only an acknowledgement that the methods used in this particular case were flawed, and doomed from the start--you can’t cure something that isn’t a sickness. Because of this treatment, I hope that those who avoid books with religious themes are not put off by The Misedcuation of Cameron Post. It is not preachy either for or against the nature/nurture arguments of homosexuality, it is the story of a girl finding and accepting herself in a time and place where so many obstacles stand in her way.
Likelihood that I'll be back for more: This is one of the strongest debuts I’ve read in 2012, definitely the strongest contemporary debut. I am so glad that Emily M. Danforth told this story. I know it was not strictly autobiographical, but I also know it was deeply personal, and I have the utmost respect for her because of this. I will without question read her next work.
Recommended for: People who enjoyed The Girls of No Return, or movies like Saved! and But I’m a Cheerleader. I would recommend this book as an amazing coming of age story, and not just for the LGBT crowd, for anyone.
Real life repercussions of reading this book: I’m kind of making it a meteorological goal to experience thundersnow sometime in my lifetime. I love thunderstorms, and I love snow, so I’m not sure I can imagine a cooler weather phenomenon (no terrible pun intended).
Get a second opinion:
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