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Monday, May 20, 2013

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth

Release Date: February 7, 2012
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Age Group: Young Adult
Format: E-book
Source: Purchased
Pages: 354
Buy: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Google
Description: Goodreads
When Cameron Post's parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief they'll never know that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl.

But that relief doesn't last, and Cam is soon forced to move in with her conservative aunt Ruth and her well-intentioned but hopelessly old-fashioned grandmother. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and leaving well enough alone (as her grandmother might say), and Cam becomes an expert at both.

Then Coley Taylor moves to town. Beautiful, pickup-driving Coley is a perfect cowgirl with the perfect boyfriend to match. She and Cam forge an unexpected and intense friendship--one that seems to leave room for something more to emerge. But just as that starts to seem like a real possibility, 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 exactly sure who that is.

The first two parts of The Miseducation of Cameron Post didn’t do much for me. Saying that feels sort of strange because I enjoyed a lot of the details packed into both sections, like Cameron’s absolute certainty that her awkward ride home with Mr. Klauson was because she’d kissed Irene. That, somehow, he just knew, even though he couldn’t. It’s one of those nonsensical, world-revolves-around-me, very human thoughts that makes no sense, but we can never quite help but shake.

Danforth also has a knack for sliding into a paragraph-long aside or just tossing in that one extra detail, like calling something, “dried-hay itchy” instead of just “itchy,” that makes things pop to life. She uses these tricks to somehow make you believe in an entire childhood friendship between Cameron and Irene, even though Irene is around for all of about 30 pages. Despite my appreciation of  Danforth’s style, the subject of the first two parts didn’t much connect with me. It felt very much like a typical coming-of-age novel, but with a gay main character. I can absolutely see why that would be useful for a teenager or young adult who’s struggling with the same stuff as Cameron; it just didn’t connect with me.

Like Cameron’s life, that all changed with Coley Taylor. More specifically, the aftermath of their night together. In the kitchen moments afterwards, when Coley’s brother arrives, the venom and fear in Coley’s actions is heartbreaking, but also completely believable. It only gets worse when she betrays Cameron and I could instantly relate with Cameron’s reactions: The part that wanted to tell everyone, the part that wanted to hate Coley, and the part that knew that she didn’t hate her even a little bit.

Sadly, Cameron, never gets that kind of closure, no matter how much I’d’ve liked to see an eventual confrontation. I suppose the lack of closure is a theme with Cameron’s partners, aside maybe from Lindsey, but that doesn’t make it sting any less. That said, it’s hard to fault Coley too much for being a scared teenager who caved to peer pressure and did what every authority figure in her life told her was right. She’s not a lesbian and never was (hell, even in bed, it was Cameron who did everything), but Cameron also gave her every chance to stop, no matter what Coley might think.

Which brings us to the third act, which is mostly an enjoyable exercise in irony, with the staff meaning the best without realizing how off base they are. Every lesson they try to teach Cameron to “cure” her just ends reaffirming her belief that her “condition” isn’t something that can be “fixed.” The staff of God’s Promise, much like every adult figure in her life other than her Grandma, do help Cameron, but not in the way they intended. It’s an almost-sad moment when Cameron realizes the reason behind Lydia’s inability to help her. The epiphany comes when Cameron realizes the reason Lydia has stupid little rules for everything: It prevents Lydia from ever having to confront something that makes he uncomfortable. She can’t possibly help Cameron because she will never even really try to understand Cameron’s struggle.

I absolutely love the final scene. There’s a sense of serenity that permeates the entire chapter that I don’t know how to describe. It’s this weird sort of ritual that  culminates in a swim through a lake. Danforth manages to stack at least three layers of symbolism into this single act (freedom from God’s Promise, acceptance of herself, and making peace with her parents’ death) while managing to impart to the reader Cameron’s own calm.  If nothing else, I’m glad I read the book just so I could experience the last 10 pages or so.

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