Tuesday, 3 September 2013

The Miseducation of Cameron Post, by Emily Danforth

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is one of the most exquisitely written and outstanding books for young adults I’ve ever read. It’s like an adult book written for teenagers, a book that treats its readers not as ‘older children’ but as mature and intelligent young people. Emotionally charged from beginning to end, it’s a coming of age novel that takes the world of bigotry to task without being preachy; a LGBT novel that is only barely about being LGBT. Rather, it is about figuring out who you are and sticking to your guns no matter what anybody else tries to tell you is right or wrong.

Cameron is almost 12 on the day she kisses a girl for the first time. It’s also the day before her parents die in a tragic car crash and when she’s told the news, her first reaction is to feel relief they’ll never find out about Irene. Her second reaction is to throw up on the bathroom floor. This is the beginning of a chain of events that will follow Cameron through the next four years of her life. A chain of events that, when she’s 15 years old, will cause her guardian, Aunt Ruth, a born again evangelical Christian with some pretty strict views on how a wholesome person should live their life, to pack Cameron off to God’s Promise Christian School and Centre for Healing. A school which deems homosexuality a sin and a sickness, and of which it is their mission to ‘cure’.

We follow Cameron through these four years, witnessing her loss, the friends she makes, the beer she drinks, the summers of swim team and hay rides and prom and building refuge and kissing boys and kissing girls. When Coley comes to town, it’s love at first sight for Cameron. But will Coley ever reciprocate Cameron’s feelings? And what will happen if or when she does?

While The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a story about sexuality, it’s also about far more than that: it’s a story about life and growing up. Her sexuality is simply one of the many different parts that make Cameron who she is, not a single defining factor. Nearly every character is as rich as Emily Danforth’s writing. I wanted to hate Ruth, but she does what she does only because she genuinely believes it to be the right thing, to be her responsibility, which is actually just very sad. And I wanted to hate Reverend Rick, but at the end of the day he’s surely just as confused as the kids he’s trying to change, yet remains true and compassionate at the same time.

Meanwhile, the themes of shame and desire and betrayal weave their way through the different characters and different events, from Cameron’s shame at her reaction to her parents deaths, to Coley’s shame at being ‘found out’, while desire pumps through almost every page – Cameron’s desire for Coley, Jamie’s desire for Cameron, Ruth’s desire to make everything ‘right’ – except, of course that what is right for one person is not necessarily right for another. But shame is something other people make you feel for yourself, for not fitting their personal profile of who you should be. And who’s to say what desire should be? For each and every one of us desire is different. Danforth expresses all of these things and more with what feels like barely any effort at all on her part, and it’s wonderful to read.

As to Cameron’s miseducation, is it the part that leads up to God’s Promise, God’s Promise itself, or the whole caboodle? And what is miseducation anyway? In the context of Cameron Post, at least, I’d say it’s a misnomer, something that is controlled by one person’s perspective, much like everyone is so set on controlling Cameron’s innate being. For Cameron, God’s Promise is her miseducation; as far as Ruth is concerned it’s the time before God’s Promise – but each and every part of it, before, during, and after, goes toward Cameron finding out what she wants and what she’s willing to do to get what she knows is right for her, no matter what box the people around try to fit her into.

Undoubtedly, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is one of the best young adult books I’ve ever read with its clear and strong-willed storytelling; a piece of writing that is just out of this world, with not one word or sentence or idea is out of place. Everyone should read it.

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