The Miseducation of Cameron Post was first published in 2012 and is the debut novel of Emily M Danforth. It is a coming-of-age story that is set in the early 90s and follows a teenage girl as she grows up in rural Montana. The novel was nominated for the William C Morris YA Debut Award in 2013 and quickly gained a great deal of critical acclaim among both teen and adult readers.
Cameron Post is twelve years old when she first kisses a girl. After her parents die suddenly in a car crash the following day, she immediately feels guilty. Although no one has ever told her that homosexuality is wrong, she knows that it is not something that is generally accepted in her community and it seems to her as if the deaths are some kind of divine punishment.
Over the next few years, Cameron gradually begins to discover her sexuality through encounters with like-minded girls. Although she now lives with her ultra-conservative Aunt Ruth and old-fashioned grandmother, she becomes very adept at hiding her preferences from them in order to better blend in. However, things change when she finds herself drawn to the beautiful Coley Taylor.
When Cameron’s intense friendship blossoms into something more, Aunt Ruth soon discovers that her niece is a lesbian. Viewing this as a sin that needs to be purged, Ruth enrolls Cameron at God’s Promise – a “Christian School and Centre for Healing” – where she can be “cured” of what Ruth is convinced is sinful desire. Sent away from the life she has always known, Cameron finds herself more confused than ever. How can the councilors expect to fix her when she knows that she was never broken?
If you have not had the pleasure of reading this novel yet, you may still have heard about it due to the controversy that it has somehow managed to generate. If you’re curious to learn more about this, take a look at this page. In short, the novel has been banned in a few American schools due to its content (arguably due to its bad language). Before I begin this review, I would just like to reassure you that there is nothing especially controversial about this book. While I wouldn’t recommend it to younger teens (primarily due to the density of the text), I strongly believe that everyone over the age of fourteen should read this novel. While it does contain some bad language, marijuana use and a couple of very tasteful sex scenes, it is certainly no more objectionable than either The Fault in our Stars or Butter.
I personally believe that The Miseducation of Cameron Post is the best novel that I have read for this site so far. It is just one of those stories that I want to recommend to everyone because I strongly feel that, regardless of your taste in books, it’s an important one to read. There are still so few novels that contain strong female protagonists and even fewer in which that protagonist is also a lesbian. Books are important as they give us the ability to consider other people’s points of view, helping us to view the world in a different light. As Cameron is such a well written character, it was very easy to get inside her head and learn to see the world from her point of view.
You do not have to be gay to fully understand how Cameron feels. Her personality just has a way of drawing you in. Cameron is intelligent, witty and just generally likable. Although she gets things wrong and is definitely not some kind of paragon of virtue, she was someone that I really would be proud to have as a friend. There is just something about Cam, about her earnest openness and desire to discover who she is, that made me want to keep reading. I wanted to know what would happen to her. I wanted her to find love. I wanted her to find some way to get away from God’s Promise so that she could make a life for herself with Lindsey or Margot. The story is really incidental to this book as it is purely an exploration of her character, yet this is more than enough to keep you turning this page.
I also commend the novel on the fact that characters are not portrayed as being either good or bad, as this also helped to make them feel as though they were real people. A lot of the time, the characters truly believed that they were doing the right thing. This is particularly evident in some of the religious characters like Aunt Ruth. While Ruth’s treatment of Cam is pretty heart-breaking, her actions are more misguided than malicious. Although her approach is obviously wrong, she is genuinely trying to do what she believes is best for her niece. While I did not agree what she did, I found it hard to hate her and this really is the mark of a well-rounded antagonist.
I understand why some other reviewers find this novel to be a little slow burning. At 470 pages it is very long for a debut novel and the font size is also particularly small. Yet, I don’t really agree with this critique. For me, the level of detail just helped to make Cameron’s world feel real. When I think back over the story, there is nothing that I would really cut out. All of the tiny details help to either make Cam’s world feel complete or further flesh out her character. These things become even more significant in the second half of the story, where many of Cameron’s habits become fodder for her councilors’ analysis of her.
Some of the most interesting food for thought comes from the smallest details. The centrepiece of Cam’s dolls house reoccurs again and again, giving constant insight into her state of mind at different moments. The reactions that different characters have towards Cameron’s sexuality also create a kind of microcosm of how society on a whole viewed gay people in the early 90s. These range quite wildly, from the very modern attitudes of Lindsey and her friends in Seattle to the terrifying Old Testament views of Mark’s father. While Cameron has always felt isolated in her small and very Christian community, when she finally meets people who are more open minded she begins to find her sense of self.
All in all, the biggest disappointment for me was that the story had to end. While I felt that the novel ended in a very good place, it did leave a lot unanswered. We do not know what Cam’s eventual fate would be (though I get the impression that it ends well, as she has gone on to a place where she can tell her tale) and we don’t learn what affect her choices in the final act will have on her friends and family. While I don’t think that a sequel is necessary as Cam’s story has come full circle, it has certainly left me with plenty to think about.
So anyway, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is an excellent novel and I would recommend it to everyone over the age of fourteen. It’s an addictive read, filled with vivid descriptions and realistic characters. It is definitely one of my favourite contemporary novels and I truly feel that it is one that everyone should add to their bucket list.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk