Title: The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Author: Emily Danforth
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Pub Date: 2/7/2012
Top 25: Yes
Age Range: 16 and up
Quality: 5Q Hard to imagine a better book
Popularity: 3P Some teen appeal
Additional Comments: I don’t know how to do a regular review for this, so here I go:
I haven’t read a galley book like this in a long, long time. Most of the teen books we get are little more than fluff, something to keep you amused for a few hours. Sure, a few exceptions standout: Hunger Games, Once, Leviathan, Marcelo, come to mind but I usually feel guilty after reading a galley book. Could I have read something more enlightening, more demonstrative of brilliant writing? Probably.
Emily Danforth blew all that away. I have loved some of books that came along in galley, but rarely do we see one that might just become a classic, that you could return to time and time again, always gaining some new insight. Teen fiction just doesn’t attract the Borges’ or Woolf’s of today. My school now discusses Hunger Games in 9th grade English, but there is only so much depth you can find.
I'm going to stake my reputation as a book reviewer and say we found a keeper. It won’t be sweeping the nation and creating entire new genres of shelves at Barnes and Nobles, but give The Miseducation of Cameron Post time and this book will change things.
I started reading when I had a few minutes of time before I had to leave. Clichéd as it sounds, I was hooked nearly instantly. I've always been a sucker for the dramatic event, a few days/hours/minutes earlier buildup beginnings and this one did it perfectly. I stayed up until four in the morning reading this book but was unable to finish it and had to spend a very, very long school day waiting until I could get home and finish the book.
The story is modernly set in rural eastern Montana. Young Cameron or Cam Post is about to enter high school and just had her first kiss—a dare that went too far. The problem was she had kissed her best friend Irene and eastern Montana isn’t the best place for young lesbian couples. Before anything happens, Cam’s parents die in a car crash. That’s one the first page and the back cover, so I haven’t ruined it for you.
The next few years of Cam’s life are the whirlwind of high school, friendship, drugs and loss. This isn’t your average teen book, where the author sees how many problems they can toss at the protagonist. Cam deals with each issue in a vividly realistic manner. Few authors I have read have captured such grief and realism and been able to create the emotions Cam is filled with.
The arrival of the very religious Aunt Ruth does little to hamper Cam’s exploration of her identity. Each character, from cowgirl Coley to swimmer Lindsay captures a different angle of modern life. From a literary standpoint, Danforth does an excellent and understandable stream of consciousness. It is relatable, readable and it reaches out for your empathy.
But as one can predict from the combination of fundamental Christians, small Montana towns, carefree relationships and the fact that you have two hundred pages left when everything seems perfect it can’t last for Cameron. Exiled to a small religious school to be “fixed” of her evil, sinful manner Cam finds her identity under attack.
The plot is engaging, well-paced and unique. But the bold exploration of identity and sexuality is what truly makes this book standout. Trying to balance what society, faith and your body tell you are something that we all need to understand and have empathy for. This isn’t a made up story: this is going to be our generation’s fight and we better understand it well.
You don’t have to agree with the story. You still will be clinging to the book as tightly as Cam tries to cling to who she is. But the questions this story presents need answers. Maybe we won’t ever find any, but The Miseducation of Cameron Post will create the dialogue we need to help us take a step in the right direction.
Both sides of the debate are well portrayed in this story. The youth struggling to understand themselves, the blaming and rhetoric that we see today, the culture that doesn’t want to change. I have my own views, but Danforth allowed me to get a glimpse of how each can claim to be the “good” fight.
This isn’t a book for twelve year olds. It won’t have massive, widespread appeal—it is far too long and thought provoking for that—but this book is going far. It’s going to get banned. It’s going to generate controversy, perhaps a few book burnings and lots and lots of angry people yelling at librarians. None of that matters.
Sexual identity is something we need forefront in national discussions and this book can put it there. The relatable nature, the empathy, the down to earth style of this story will soften hardened hearts and spark a change. I might be a tad too optimistic, but I'd money that we will be reading this book for a long time.
I'll end with a Flannery O'Connor quote (fitting for a book review, right?) that Danforth had on her website. Summing up the reason to read this book better than I ever could, O’Connor wrote, “A story is a way to say something that can't be said any other way, and it takes every word of the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anyone asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story."