The Miseducation of Cameron Post: review

March 9, 2012 2012, 5 star books, emily danforth, food in books, realistic fiction, Wendy 43

by Emily M. Danforth
If you were to lay out a visual storyboard for The Miseducation of Cameron Post, it would be filled with lomographic photography–retro lighting, wide-open vistas, saturated colors, and quirky, sometimes blurry exposures that provide quick snapshots of the many small pleasures of childhood. This coming of age novel, which is written more like adult literary fiction than typical YA, beautifully captures the sun-drenched mood of summer as we meet Cameron, a young girl living in a small town in eastern Montana in 1989.

It was the kind of heat where a breeze feels like someone’s venting a dryer over the town, whipping dust and making the cottonseeds from the big cottonwoods float across a wide blue sky and collect in soft tufts on neighborhood lawns. Irene and I called it summer snow, and sometimes we’d squint into the dry glare and try to catch cotton on our tongues.

It’s a pleasure to be lulled into the slow rhythm of the author’s words and to enjoy the moments of stillness and spontaneity throughout the entire story. As the novel begins, Cameron’s parents have gone off on their annual camping trip, and she’s spending the summer with her best friend Irene, eating too-big scoops of ice cream and strawberry pretzel salad, freezing wet shirts to keep cool, telling stories, and watching the twilight creep over the town. There’s a new awareness between the two girls, however, which floods Cameron with pleasure and confusion when things suddenly take an unexpected turn.

There’s nothing to know about a kiss like that before you do it. It was all action and reaction, the way her lips were salty and she tasted like root beer. The way I felt sort of dizzy the whole time. If it had been that one kiss, then it would have been just the dare, and that would have been no different than anything we’d done before. But after that kiss, as we leaned against the crates, a yellow jacket swooping and arcing over some spilled pop, Irene kissed me again. 

Later, the girls talk about how they’d get in trouble if anyone found out.

Even though no one had ever told me, specifically, not to kiss a girl before, nobody had to. 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. 

Shortly afterwards, Cameron’s parents die in a car crash and she’s sent to live with her conservative Aunt Ruth in the small town of Miles City, Montana, where she does her best to fit in and forget what happened before. So when beautiful Coley Taylor arrives on the scene, it spells trouble in a big way–and things spiral out of control in Cameron’s world when she is sent off to God’s Promise, a Christian de-gaying camp. (The author addresses this very frankly in most of the interviews I’ve seen, so I’m assuming it’s not a spoiler to include that info here.) Here, she is to learn “appropriate gender roles” and refrain from “negative bonding over sinful/unhealthy desires.” 

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this novel, so it was a relief to find it doesn’t feel at all heavy-handed. I’ve  realized recently that the problem I have with so many Message Books is that you can so clearly tell the author set out with an agenda and just filled in additional details to make a story. However, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a fully realized novel in every way, and if Cameron weren’t gay, it would still be a well-crafted, well-written story with an immensely appealing protagonist…even if she’s not always completely likable. But I sort of like that about her, you know? Because most of us were pretty unbearable as teenagers, and I found her prickliness and defiance to be sympathetic and very real.

Fair warning that Cameron is just as likely to tell you to eff off as she is to bum a smoke off you, though. For even though there are beautiful moments of stillness and jumbled, joyous images of childhood (Cameron puts a piece of flourite in her mouth at one point so she can taste its hardness and grit, which is something I totally did as a kid), there are also frank sexual situations, marijuana use, shoplifting, and all kinds of other things that might normally drive me up the wall when they’re casually included in your typical YA book. 
But this isn’t a fluffy young adult novel at all, and it’s easy to understand why Cameron acts out as she tries to figure out who she is under extremely difficult circumstances. Not to mention that her feelings are not at all unusual; Cameron’s confusion and longing during the prom scene when Coley dances with someone else is that stuff of universal loneliness and despair. As a reader, it also hurt unbearably to read about Mark Turner, son of a preacher from a mega church in Nebraska, who is the “poster boy for a Christian upbringing, but yet here he was, at Promise, just like the rest of us.” Mark’s struggles with his faith and his natural impulses are devastating to witness, and it’s a brutal reminder that there are sometimes terrible consequences when we ignore what’s right in the name of what’s righteous.

I appreciated how honestly teenage sex and experimentation were portrayed, in a way that didn’t feel tacky or sensationalized. And I appreciated the restraint with which this enormously touchy subject was handled. I found myself getting very angry as I read the book–it’s hard not to when you see a child being told unequivocally that he’s going to hell for what he feels–but the story is remarkably even-handed. While Cameron is defiant and angry over her containment, as most of the kids are, the few harsh words about the program include “I’m just saying that sometimes you can end up really messing somebody up because the way you’re trying to supposedly help them is really messed up.” Instead of using this platform to rant or rage, the author simply allows us to get to know Cameron and provides the framework for the question: after reading this girl’s story, which is the story of so many girls and boys just like her, can anyone deny the validity of her feelings? 

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a fierce book that boldly explores identity, sexuality, and human responsibility in a relatable way, even as it demands attention from your social conscience and reaches out for your empathy. Even with such a hot-button topic, however, it somehow manages to refrain from outright condemnation of those who oppose its views. It’s a shame that twenty years after the events of this book, this type of tolerance is still not entirely a two-way street.

About the Book

The author was partially inspired by the true story of a 16-year-old boy who said he was being sent to a de-gaying camp in Tennessee. Read more about this in the author’s interview with author Curtis Sittenfeld. 
Emily Danforth also has a deleted scene from the book on her website.

Recommended for mature teens and adults only. This review also appears on GoodReads.

Rated 5 out of 5 stars

43 Responses to “The Miseducation of Cameron Post: review”

  1. Ace

    Wonderful review, Darling, as usual. This is another one I’ve been eying for a while. Looks like I’ll have a busy weekend.

  2. Jess (Tangled Up in Blue)

    Stunning review. I have seen this book floating around the blogosphere, but I didn’t know anything about it until I read your review. I will definitely be reading this. I love books that evoke such powerful emotions.

  3. Rachelia (Bookish Comforts)

    Lovely review! I like how you included quotes from the book because it really allowed me to read the beautiful prose of the author. I really want to give this one a try – it sounds like it is shaping up to be a wonderful book!

  4. Vegan YA Nerds

    Lovely review, Wendy! I went straight to Goodreads and added it to my to-read list :) And I love the cover, it’s beautiful and I imagine it suits the feel of the book perfectly.

    • Wendy Darling

      Awesome! I’m so glad you’re going to give it a try. The cover DOES suit the book perfectly, and although I have an electronic version I definitely have to get myself a hard copy, too.

  5. Amber J.

    This: “there are sometimes terrible consequences when we ignore what’s right in the name of what’s righteous” is the best piece of advice I’ve read in a long time.
    Great review Wendy :)

    • Wendy Darling

      Thanks so much, Amber. It’s always troubling when the rights and feelings of human beings–especially kids–are marginalized. I thought this book did a great job of showing how well-meaning intentions sometimes just aren’t good enough of a justification for some of the things we do.

    • Wendy Darling

      Aw, thanks Miss Vain. :) I get very excited about books and I’m even more excited when my friends like them, too! Happy reading to you as well.

  6. Heidi

    “The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a fully realized novel in every way, and if Cameron weren’t gay, it would still be a well-crafted, well-written story with an immensely appealing protagonist…even if she’s not always completely likable.”

    This, THIS is what makes me so excited to read this book. I love good LGBT lit, and so often what makes it good for me is when the story would bee just as well-crafted, well-written, and appealing even if the lead wasn’t gay. I also love well-written unlikable characters. I don’t always bond with them, but I appreciate them, and recognize that they do so often reflect the reality of teens. I’m sure if I met teen me I’d be annoyed too! Thanks for the lovely review, I have this one on hand, and hope to get to it within the next week so that I can compare notes!

    • Wendy Darling

      I kind of feel like that should be the prevailing test for pretty much all books, you know? If you removed the “identifying factor/marketing hook” (LGBT, vampire, girl with cancer, whatever), is it still a good book? In this case, I’m happy to say that it IS. :)

      I can’t wait for you to read this, Heidi. I’m really looking forward to seeing what you think!

  7. The Sagacity Quest

    WOW. Wonderful review, Wendy. I got this book couple of weeks ago, and I’ve yet to read it. I’ve been reading great reviews about this book but your review tops every single of them. Now, I’m more excited about it. Thanks for sharing.

    • Wendy Darling

      I’m so glad you already have the book, SG–can’t wait to compare notes with you! Cameron’s a pretty unforgettable heroine.

  8. Amy

    That is a lovely well written review! This book is on my TBR list, and I have read some really great reviews on it, but just the way yours is written makes me want this book right this second. Thank you for sharing Wendy!

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh, I hope you enjoy this as much as I did, Amy. It made my “made my heart hurt” shelf on GoodReads. Thank you for your lovely comment!

  9. Agnieszka Nashi

    I thoroughly enjoyed your review, thank you so much!

    It seems like one of these books that go deeper and farther. I might check it out later when I have time, it’s really intriguing and addressing a topic that is rarely picked up in my country.

    Agnieszka @ Nook of Books

    • Wendy Darling

      Thanks Agnieszka! I think it’s important that we see more LGBT books for teens, and certainly this one addresses a very troubling topic. I’d be very interested in seeing what you think of it if you decide to read it.

    • Wendy Darling

      My third 5 star read for 2012, Nat. :) This one took me by surprise–I hope you enjoy it, too. I think it’s an important book, and one that’s going to stand the test of time.

  10. elena

    I was tentative of this because I was afraid it would be a Message Book but I’m glad it wasn’t like that! I love that you called it a fully realised novel, it really does seem like the best kind of realistic novel where you can take away from the book without it feeling like it’s manipulating you. Cameron seems like a wonderful protagonist. Such a lovely review, Wendy!

    • Wendy Darling

      Not an “afterschool special” type of book at all, Elena, which is such a relief. I ended up loving Cameron–I think you will, too. :)

  11. Mimi Valentine

    Oh, Wendy, WOW! <3 I've only seen this around only a little bit and I knew I wanted to read it because I've been making a point to read books with deep meanings like this one... Your reviews always have an amplifying effect! And those quotes? So well-written and beautiful -- I can already tell I'll adore Cameron from the start. The way you describe how the author handles this fragile subject sounds powerful and flawless!

    Amazingly beautiful review, Wendy! :) I’m really glad you adored this book as much as you did! <3

    • Wendy Darling

      Thanks so much, Mimi! It’s a tough book in many ways, but a beautiful one, too. I hoe you get a chance to check it out soon.

  12. roro

    I’m really excited for this book, and your review makes me want to read it right away.did not know it was it based pased in the previous century

    awesome review ^^

  13. Andrea @The Bookish Babes

    This is the first review I’ve read for TMoCP. I’m glad the author let’s the story flow and evil e instead of forcing a message. Sounds like this book, ironically, could be used to educate those who want to “straighten” people out.
    Lovely review.

  14. Karen

    Wow. Sounds powerful but I love how you say that the author lets us experience things throughout the character rather than being heavy handed about it. Love your review.

    • Wendy Darling

      The writing is not at all preachy or self-righteous, Karen, which I very much respect. Thanks so much for your comment. :)

  15. Julie@My5monkeys

    I have heard such great things about this book and how it tackles so many different important topics. Great review …1989 I remember those days :)

    • Wendy Darling

      Gosh, I remember 1989, too! This book does such a great job of making you feel this time and place. A terrific novel in so many ways.

  16. Heidi@Rainy Day Ramblings

    Hi Wendy welcome back! I was wondering why I wasn’t getting emails from your blog. I read a wonderful review of this on Candace’s blog a couple of weeks ago. This book sounds important and truthful and obviously takes place back when it was not ok to be gay. I would be interested in reading about that camp, to see the methods to try and force someone to change what’s written in their DNA. I will certainly try to check it out. I loved the quotes.
    Hope things are good in your world :)

    • Wendy Darling

      Thanks Heidi–I was dealing with some blog issues so I took a bit of a blogging hiatus, but I’m trying to ease back in. :)

      I think one of the things that moved me deeply about this book is that I know that there are still kids that are dealing with this type of thing even today. Maybe this book can help them feel not so alone, in some small way.

      Thanks so much for your lovely post. :)

  17. ashelynn hetland

    oh wow, lovely review. I’m really excited for this book, and your review makes me want to read it right away. I hadn’t realized it was set in 1989.

    btw, I got a copy of Wonder the other day and can’t wait to read it thanks to your review. <3

    • Wendy Darling

      Thanks Ashelynn! I’m really excited to see what you’ll think of both books. You know I’ll be stalking you until you read them. :D

  18. Savannah Valdez

    For some reason I couldn’t get into it. I had trouble with the flashback and for some reason it dragged. But I am so very happy that you enjoyed it :)

    • Wendy Darling

      I am sure that this book isn’t for everybody, Savannah–I’ve seen some criticisms that the pacing is too slow and whatnot, but what can I say? It totally worked for me. :) Thanks so much for your lovely comment, though!