Thursday, February 9, 2012

Book Review: Emily M. Danforth's "The Miseducation of Cameron Post"

The young adult world has seen more than enough vampires, wizards, and post-Apocalyptic America. It has seen the typical coming-of-age stories and predictable coming-out stories. Emily M. Danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post is both a coming-of-age and coming-out tale, but not typical, predictable, and there are definitely no vampires (well, except for this one scene, but it’s quick and painless).

In Danforth’s 1990s rural Montana setting, you get what you expect. Some kids being kids – breaking into broken down buildings, getting high in the woods – and some conservatives being conservatives, complete with the Gates of Praise worship center, the old-fashioned school dances, and God's Promise, a LGBT “treatment” facility where “the opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality. It is Holiness.”

But Miseducation is not about the protagonist, Cameron’s, cliché struggle with being queer, or at least not entirely. The book inspects the raw parts of acceptance, healing, and moving forward. Cameron isn’t just answering the questions “Am I gay?” or “Who am I?” She must deal with her parent’s abrupt and Final Destination 2-like death, followed by a series of frustrating friendships (some of which turn into relationships). She’s an immediately relatable female Holden Caulfield, but Danforth has created a unique character, a girl who walks out on arguments she doesn’t like, who finds great joy in Bubblicious gum, who turns to every VHS tape she can find for life advice, for “something official to show [her] how all of this should feel.” Danforth's book is straight out of a young adult's stream of consciousness. Her descriptions are teenage awkward and totally accurate:

"Grandma stooped over with a yellow rag, sprinkling out the cleanser, that chemical-mint smell puffing around us, her son dead and her daughter-in-law dead and her only grandchild a now-orphaned shoplifter, a girl who kissed girls, and she didn't even know, and now she was cleaning up my vomit, feeling even worse because of me: That's what made me cry."

In a refreshing way, the author avoids the "religion is so ridiculous" plotline, although uses the appropriate humor to get her point across. Yes, it's absolutely bogus to get sent off to cure your gayness, but the protagonist eventually gets to a place where she can relate a crazy Bible-thumper's faith to her own peace from a mountain jog. My only complaint is the momentum in the book's final section. The narrator kisses another girl, discovers her parents are dead, and hits the ground running (in all senses of the word). But the plot slows way down once Cameron arrives at God's Promise. Other than that, the book is absolutely worth it. Miseducation is real and gritty, and a gem in both the YA lit and queer fiction worlds.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post was published on February 7, 2012 by Balzer and Bray. The book is Danforth's first novel.

(Look out for an extended version of my review in an upcoming issue of The Stranger!)

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