#BrunchBookClub Review: The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

11595276-2When 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, ultra-religious 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 Miseducation of Cameron Post is a stunning and unforgettable literary debut about discovering who you are and finding the courage to live life according to your own rules.

So, this one has been on the pile for a long time. I will admit to starting it – and liking it – but then having to put it down for something else and then …. not picking it up again. I know all about the reviews, about the glowing recommendations from people I respect (ahem, Christa and Vikki) and I’ve even recommended it. But I hadn’t finished it (#shame) so I was really happy that Michele and I decided to add it to the roster for our reading season.

Initial thoughts? This is a beautiful and thoughtful book that I wish was available for every teen who is starting to realize their own sexuality might be different from what they perceive as ‘normal’. Cameron’s story unfolds slowly, and there’s a lyricism to the writing that draws you in and holds you tight. It’s quiet and slow at times, and absolutely heartbreaking.

I loved the atmospheric feel to Danforth’s writing. While reading, you can feel the heat of the summer, see the flashes of the ‘thundersnow’ storm and the coolness of the water every time Cameron enters. The emotional connections are equally as strong, and your heart aches for Cam each time she is rejected or as she pulls herself away from a potential connection. The scenes with her Grandma are particularly poignant, especially as you realize that they are united in their grief, although they handle it in very different ways.

What was most difficult for me to read, however, were the scenes at God’s Promise, the religious boarding school where the counsellors attempt to “pray the gay away”. I appreciated that Danforth, via Cameron, made it clear that the people working at such camps do so because they sincerely believe that it is possible to ‘turn’ someone away from homosexuality. I also appreciated that things were not cut and dried for Cameron; she uses the analogy of the cheap sticky hands that, after time, are inevitably covered in fluff and dirt to explain her conflicted emotions about her sexuality. That these places existed – and still exist – makes me angry and sad all at the same time. I wonder how many individuals are like Cameron and her peers, destined to be shunned by their families because of something deemed inherently wrong by others.

There’s lots to love about the details in this book. I loved how Cameron used movies to find solace and potential role models for same-sex relationships. I also appreciated that others recognized her feelings before Cameron was even ready to acknowledge them herself, and that she had several allies along the way, acknowledged or otherwise. I loved that Cameron’s crushes and first loves started out as friendships and developed into something more. It was heartening to see that religion was not made a scapegoat for differing opinions (I know too many deeply religious LGBT individuals to ever fall for the “gay rights good/religion bad” debate).

Ultimately, this is a deeply moving and thought-provoking coming of age story. Beautifully written, it touches on a variety of thoughts and themes without passing judgement, except to say that accepting who you are, even under the most difficult of circumstances, is something we all need to do. I’ll look forward to the discussion with Michele and others, as I think there is so much depth to this book that it will be hard to put it into one post.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth is available for purchase from all fine book retailers, and is published by Harper Collins Canada. ISBN: 9780062020574, 470 pages.