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The Miseducation of Cameron Post Hardcover – February 7, 2012
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*Starred Review* It begins with a preadolescent kiss between protagonist Cameron and her friend, Irene. The very next day Cameron’s parents die in an automobile accident, and the young girl is left riddled with guilt, feeling her forbidden kiss was somehow responsible for the accident. This is an old convention of GLBT literature, but freshly handled here and given sophisticated thematic weight. As Cameron grows into her teenage years, she recognizes that she is a lesbian. After several emotional misadventures, she meets and falls in love with the beautiful Coley, who appears to be bisexual. Both girls attend the same fundamentalist church, and when Cameron’s conservative Aunt Ruth discovers the affair, she remands Cameron to God’s Promise, a church camp that promises to “cure” young people of their homosexuality. Such “religious conversion therapy” is rooted in reality, and Cam’s experiences at the camp are at the heart of this ambitious literary novel, a multidimensional coming-of-age reminiscent of Aidan Chambers’ equally ambitious This Is All (2006). There is nothing superficial or simplistic here, and Danforth carefully and deliberately fleshes out Cam’s character and those of her family and friends. Even the eastern Montana setting is vividly realized and provides a wonderfully apposite background for the story of Cam’s miseducation and the challenges her stint in the church camp pose to her development as a mature teenager finding friendship and a plausible future. Grades 9-12. --Michael Cart
“Rich with detail and emotion, a sophisticated read for teens and adults alike.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))
“[An] ambitious literary novel, a multidimensional coming-of-age.” (Booklist (starred review))
“The story is riveting, beautiful, and full of the kind of detail that brings to life a place (rural Montana), a time (the early 1990s), and a questioning teenage girl.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
“This finely crafted, sophisticated coming-of-age debut novel is multilayered, finessing such issues as loss, first love, and friendship. An excellent read for both teens and adults.” (School Library Journal (starred review))
“Cameron is a memorable heroine with an unforgettable and important story to tell, and she does so with wit, emotion, and depth. (Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books)
“If Holden Caulfield had been a gay girl from Montana, this is the story he might have told—it’s funny, heartbreaking, and beautifully rendered. Emily Danforth remembers exactly what it’s like to be a teenager, and she has written a new classic.” (Curtis Sittenfeld, bestselling author of PREP and AMERICAN WIFE)
“A beautifully told story that is at once engaging and thoughtful. THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST is an important book—one that can change lives. ” (Jacqueline Woodson, award-winning author of AFTER TUPAC AND D FOSTER and HUSH)
“This novel is a joy—one of the best and most honest portraits of a young lesbian I’ve read in years. Cameron Post is a bright, brash, funny main character who leaps off the page and into your heart! This is a story that keeps you reading way into the night—an absorbing, suspenseful, and important book.” (Nancy Garden, author of ANNIE ON MY MIND)
“Danforth’s narrative of a bruised young woman finding her feet in a complicated world is a tremendous achievement: strikingly unsentimental, and full of characters who feel entirely rounded and real. A story of love, desire, pain, loss—and, above all, of survival. An inspiring read.” (Sarah Waters, author of THE LITTLE STRANGER)
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From the booklist review, anyone reading this should know at least the major plot points, but I apologize in advance if this review contains any spoilers.
The book starts off with a punch to the gut, and immediately drags you into the rich and compelling story of Cameron Post. The night Cam kisses her best friend for the first time, her parents are killed in an accident. Understandably, Cam links those two events in her mind and is wracked with guilt and shame over her attraction to other girls, and tries to suppress it, but she can't. When she and her best friend fall in love, they are able to keep their relationship a secret until being discovered by the best friend's brother. Cam's Aunt Ruth then ships her off to a religious conversion camp to "pray away the gay".
Cam's story is one of love, loss, confusion, religion, and healing, all bundled together. Danforth has a compelling way of weaving words that draws you in and creates an impact on the reader. The realities of growing up LGBT in a strict religious family are well fleshed out in the novel, through Cam's relationship with Aunt Ruth and the leaders and counselors at the conversion camp Promise, as well as in Cam's own internal struggle between what her fundamentalist religious community tells her and what she knows to be true.
Normally a book like this would not be something I would pick up. I get caught up in my own reading preferences: third-person narratives, no switching through different perspectives, and no frame devices, only a single solid story, evenly paced. Had I done my research beforehand, I may never have read this awesome book.
I think my favourite part of the book is the middle, when everything is both a revelation and hopeful. But for me, the last part was most important. I'm used to hating these counsellors who think they can change someone's sexuality or gender identity, and I think in the context of modern day counsellors, I still don't like them. They've had years to realize that what they're doing actually hurts people and they still persist in their "treatments."
But in the Miseducation of Cameron Post, I came to understand why someone like Rick might turn to God, might be willing to de-gay himself. With an aunt like Lydia, and probably more family and friends who believe the same, this book makes it clear how someone might internalize the belief that their sexuality makes them unlovable to God. There was a character, a boy at God's Promise whose name I have unfortunately forgotten (I just moved, and my book is still in a box), but he went through a similar situation. He believes that he won't be good enough for his father until he is "cured," until he reaches some masculine ideal that he and his father have both internalized as an ideal goal. Characters like these are not often portrayed, at least not that I've read. We are more used to the rebellions, like that of Cameron, Jane, and Adam. The reason why I've fixated on characters like Rick and the boy is because I think their stories should be told, too. Through these characters, I better understood the damage that the teachings at God's Promise were inflicting on these young people.
As much as I hate counsellors like Rick and Lydia in the present, I had more sympathy for them in this book. Well, not Lydia. And even the people in Cameron's hometown, like Aunt Ruth and Coley's parents, I had more sympathy for them than I expected to have. I've often found it difficult to feel anything but anger for people who are like this in real life, but their portrayal in this book showed that they truly believe they are in the right. And even if I do think they're misguided, this book has succeeded in humanizing them to the point where I cannot blindly spew anger in their direction