The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth
“It was guys and girls who kissed–in our grade, on TV, in the movies, in the world; and that’s how it worked: guys and girls. Anything else was something weird.”
I first heard about this book after reading an interview with author Emily Danforth on Slate.com, and decided right away that I needed to read it. What I got was a beautifully written and inspiring coming-of-age story, set during the early 1990s against the backdrop of the socially conservative American midwest.
When we first meet Cameron, she is twelve years old and just lost both her parents to a car crash. What no one knows is that just hours before the crash, Cameron had been kissing her best friend Irene. Slowly she struggles to come to terms with her parents’ death, a part of her wondering what her parents would have thought if they had lived to find out that she had kissed a girl.
A few years later, Cameron is living in rural Montana with her religious aunt. She has had a few more experiences with girls, but is still questioning her orientation and therefore keeps her feelings to herself. Not ready to be ”out and proud,” she goes on a few dates with a boy from her school, but soon finds herself overwhelmed with feelings for her new friend Coley. Though at first Coley insists that she is not “that way,” she and Cameron quickly begin an intense (but still awkward) relationship. But things change drastically for Cameron when her aunt discovers her “sin” and sends her to Promise, a Christian boarding school whose agenda is curing teens of homosexuality.
What I loved most about this book was that even though the protagonist is a gay teen, this is still a relatable coming-of-age story. Cameron experiences all the same uncertainty, self-doubt, and peer pressure that any other teen experiences. She really isn’t so much a pioneer for gay rights as a teenager who just wants the freedom to be herself. And I think that’s something that anyone, gay or straight, can relate to. Cameron is still a wonderful character. Smart, funny, mischievous, and at times very poignant:
“At Word of Life I felt like a big, shiny, obvious goldfish, a goldfish well known to have homosexual tendencies, so basically a big, gay goldfish in a tank with eighteen other such goldfish, wheeled in and parked in a pew for two hours, much to the delight of the crowd.”
This book received some criticism for not portraying the teachers and counselors at Promise in a more negative way. However misguided their beliefs are, they are not the snarling, abusive beasts we expect them to be. But subtle as it is, the book is still very critical of conversion therapy. One chapter in particular is graphic enough to show how dangerous this therapy really is. The overall message is clear: you cannot pray the gay away.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a beautiful story. Danforth’s portrayal of the teenage experience is authentic, and Cameron’s story is one you won’t soon forget. I would recommend this book to anyone because it’s more than an LGBT story, it’s a human story.