Placed in the custody of a conservative aunt in Montana after losing her parents in a car crash, teen Cameron secretly falls in love with her cowgirl best friend and is dispatched to a religious conversion camp when the truth about her sexual orientation is discovered. – NPR
I recently finished reading this book, which just came out last week (pun intended, of course). Given my obsession with YA literature, as well as my interest in LGBT issues, I thought that it sounded interesting, so downloaded the Kindle edition, and began reading it that very night.
The book is set in the author’s hometown of Miles City, Montana (which is described in such incredible detail that I felt like I was there while I was reading). So I was drawn in right away, and had high hopes for the story.
And some particularly well-written passages certainly met–even exceeded–my expectations:
I don’t think it’s overstating it to say that my religion of choice became VHS rentals, and that its messages came in Technicolor and musical montages and fades and jump cuts and silver-screen legends and B-movie nobodies and villains to root for and good guys to hate. But Ruth was wrong, too. There was more than just one other world beyond ours; there were hundreds and hundreds of them, and at 99 cents apiece, I could rent them all.
The author brings us back to this idea again a hundred or so pages later:
But if renting all those movies had taught me anything more than how to lose myself in them, it was that you only actually have perfectly profound little moments like that in real life if you recognize them yourself, do all the fancy shot work and editing in your head, usually in the very seconds that whatever is happening is happening. And even if you do manage to do so, just about never does anyone else you’re with at the time experience that same kind of moment, and it’s impossible to explain it as it’s happening, and then the moment is over.
But the book didn’t blow my mind the way I’d hoped it would. And that’s a weird thing to say, because I didn’t even feel as though anything was really missing from it; all of the elements of a great novel were there. But many of the book’s most poignant moments were buried beneath a lot of fluff. I think that most of the minor characters should have been eliminated. That would have allowed danforth to focus in a little bit more on those who had major roles in the story.
I say this because she clearly has a gift for character development. I really admire the way that she portrayed Lydia, in particular, who runs the facility that Cameron’s Aunt Ruth sends her to after her sexual orientation is discovered. I had expected Lydia to be flat and completely unrelatable. But she turned out to be just as human as any of the other characters:
Lydia was like this all the time. I mean, the more I opened up to her, was a model patient or whatever, the icier she got, correcting pretty much everything out of my mouth and at least half of my silent actions as well. But the thing was that her near-constant admonitions actually made me like her more. I think because witnessing her administration of ten zillion rules and codes of conduct, all of which she applied to her own life, made her seem fragile and weak, in need of the constant protection of all those rules, instead of the opposite, the way I know that she wanted to be seen, the way I’d seen her when I first arrived: powerful and all knowing.
One more thing before I step down from my character development soap box: There’s a lot more I’d like to know about Coley Taylor, the girl Cameron falls in love with; I want to know how she felt about the fact that Cameron was sent to a gay conversion camp, and I want to know if she meant the horrible things she said in the letter she sent to Cameron, or if she’d been pressured into writing it by her family and fellow church members.
But I hesitate to criticize too heavily, because I love books that raise questions and piss me off a little. And The Miseducation of Cameron Post certainly accomplished that.
One thing that was really interesting for me is that I happened to stumble upon this book right after I finished reading The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti, which criticizes the right-wing’s obsession with the control of female sexuality and insistence upon adherence to traditional gender roles. Through the camp that Cameron attends, I was able to see this very belief system in action, and it was really disturbing to me.
Speaking of The Purity Myth, I’m happy that danforth didn’t skirt around the sex scenes. There was some pretty damn good lesbian sex in this book. 🙂 I’m also glad that Cameron’s sexuality wasn’t “discovered” in the way that I had expected it to be. Given that she’s a high school student, I’d assumed that she and Coley would be caught having sex in her bedroom by her Aunt Ruth. And that’s not at all how it happened. Hooray for originality!
I’m so happy that this book was written, and I hope to see more like it in the future. I wish that it had been around when I was a teenager, coming to terms with my sexuality. My overcritical English major eye aside, I know that this book will help people. I see its publication as a sign that the world really will get around to changing for the better one of these days.