Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Review: The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: February 7, 2012
Source/Format: Owned hardcover
Page Count: 470.
Goodreads & Amazon

Cameron Post was a happy little girl. She had her parents and playdates with the best friend she could ever ask for, Irene Klauson. But just at the height of her friendship with Irene, which was starting to move into the murky waters of young experimentation, her parents unexpectedly dies and instead of feeling grief, she is guilty of being relieved that her parents will never have to know she was kissing a girl. In comes her grandmother and born-again Christian Aunt Ruth, and Cameron pulls away and creates her own secret life of contraband movies, dollhouse building, and secret hookups. Things are twisted again when a beautiful cowgirl, Coley Taylor, moves to town and begins what becomes another intense and confusing friendship for Cameron. At the apex of this relationship, Aunt Ruth catches wind of her niece's 'sinful' ways and sends her to a camp to "fix" her and her sexuality, and brings Cameron closer to herself than she's ever felt.

We both knew the knock was coming. We heard the footsteps stop outside Irene's door, but there was an empty time between the end of those steps and the heavy rap of his knuckles: ghost time. Mr. Klauson standing there, waiting, maybe holding his breath, just like me. I think about him on the other side of that door all the time, even now. How I still had parents before that knock, and how I didn't after.

I was so excited to find this book for only $1 at the Brown Elephant here in Chicago. I've heard a lot about this book and there was quite a lot of hype surrounding it, so I was curious to see what it was all about. The Miseducation of Cameron Post is easily one of the most beautifully written Young Adult novels I have read in a long time. Danforth is thorough in her descriptions, places, and feeling. At any given chunk in the book, she keeps the reader well acquainted with the temperature, the tension, and look of the place. The only downside to her beautiful writing was that it sometimes became too wordy or overwritten, and details were included that didn't necessarily need to be there, but looked nice on the page regardless. 

I wanted to share this summer world with Lindsey when she came, all of what was best about Miles City in July spread out before us like a picnic table heaped with pies. The meet seemed like a formality, and no home meet had ever felt that way before. In our prelim heats, on Saturday, I beat Lindsey's time in every event, even the freestyle. Other teams weren't used to the thickness of the water, the feeling of lake weed tickling their legs, their toes slipping off the algae coating on our homemade turn boards...

Cameron as a character was interesting but not at the same time. I was intrigued by the incredible interruption to her life brought on by the death of her parents and the entrance of her ultra-conservative Aunt Ruth. The main reason she lacked in energy for me was the distance from which she was telling the story, which created two Camerons. There was, who I called, Grown-Up Cameron, and Lil Cameron. Lil Cameron was going through a slew of issues with losing her best friend Irene, her parents, and leading a double life of sorts. Grown-Up Cameron has had what seems like years to process her childhood and sexuality, and this polishing of her memories eliminated a lot of the visceral feelings and angst that should have come along with being alienated by her best friends and coming to terms with her sexuality. Lil Cameron, through the lens of Grown-Up Cameron, seemed to have a very flawless time accepting her identity and rolling with the punches dealt by the adults and peers in her life. I wish there had been more emotion coming from Cameron in these very intense moments, instead of the glossy recollections coming from Grown-Up Cameron. 

Coley had to have known that this was what we were getting to--I knew it, this is what this guy did, what he was known for--but I could feel her, next to me, tense just a little at those words: curing gays. Maybe I tensed too. I tried to seem cool, though, cool like Rick. I made a point of keeping eye contact with him.

Meeting Cameron's parents before they died also would have been beneficial to understanding Cameron's missing of them, and a very pivotal scene near the end of the book. Besides the news of their death, and the obligatory moments where Cameron visits their grave sites and has small moments with her grandmother remembering them, there wasn't much of Mr. and Mrs. Post for the reader to latch onto and feel grief over with Cameron. The reader is told of Cameron's missing of them, but again, Grown-Up Cameron took the wheel in eliminating the crushing emotions that comes with losing both parents at once.

Jane was messing with the straps and buckles on her leg, pulling at things. It was grossing me out. The stump was all covered with a brace and padding, but I was afraid that if she didn't stop messing with it soon, it wouldn't be. 
She noticed me noticing this. "I keep some of the stash in my leg. I have a little compartment hollowed out. You'll get over it."
"I'm fine with it," I said, throwing lots of hay and not looking.
"No you're not. But you will be after a couple of hits." 

Some of my favorite characters in the novel were those at God's Promise, the camp Cameron is sent to to be 'fixed' of her sins. Jane Fonda had a what seemed hilarious, but turned out intense and heartbreaking, backstory that made me wish Jane had her own book. With her prosthetic leg, and a Polaroid always on hand for snapping embarrassing candids of the other campers, she was a well-rounded secondary character that knew when to use her humor, and when to be serious. I also loved Adam, though his reason for being sent to God's Promise was a little confusing and unclear. Each camper was strapped with their own emotional baggage and pressures that came along with their personal identity and familial perceptions of those they chose to love. It was sad and beautiful and Danforth treated each one with a tenderness that made me want to gather them all up and help them escape to a place where they could be unthreatened to be who they were. 

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is definitely worth the read, though I was glad I had only paid $1 for it. The prose is beautiful and descriptive, and Danforth created quite a few one-of-a-kind characters that I am unlikely to forget, though her tendency to over-write and the distance from which Cameron is telling her story diluted what should have been intense, heart-pounding moments. 

Rating: 3.75 / 5

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