Emily Danforth’s novel The Miseducation of Cameron Post puts a fresh face on the classic queer-kid-coming-of-age-in-a-rural-conservative-area plot. It’s destined to become a classic in Young Adult queer fiction.
When I was thirteen, fourteen years old, I sought out queer YA books and read them in secret, locked in my bedroom, never daring to take them to school – Julie Anne Peters’s Keeping You a Secret and Far From Xanadu, Judy MacLean’s Rosemary and Juliet, Sara Ryan’s Empress of the World. I removed their dust jackets (so that the title and summary would not be easily accessible, should I leave them lying about somewhere) and kept them underneath my bed. I read them again, and again, and again, loving those characters that were like me. Those books were all I knew of the queer world. I treasured them.
At twenty-three, I fell in love with Cameron Post – with the way she cracks jokes to avoid feeling anything, with her half-hearted interest in her athletic abilities, with the way she transforms her old dollhouse with found and stolen items.
This is the story of a girl who mourns the deaths of her parents, falls in love with girls who don’t know how to love her back, and is forced to attend Christian boarding school to have her queerness “cured.” Cameron is creative, intelligent, funny, and resilient. Her narration is unique, spontaneous, and wise.
Emily Danforth has given us an in-depth look at Cameron’s world in Miles City, Montana. From the Gates of Praise Christian church, to Scanlon Lake, where Cameron works and swims competitively, to the abandoned hospital she loves to explore, to God’s Promise Christian boarding school – every bit of the novel’s setting is beautifully mapped out. Danforth was raised in Miles City, and this novel paints a vivid picture of it.
One of my favorite things about this novel was the complexity with which Danforth crafted her characters. No one was black and white, as is often seen in books like this, where the villains are the conservative Christians, and the hero(ine) is the queer person. In Cameron Post, yes, the Christians were doing harm to the queer characters, but it was also clear that many of them had been harmed themselves. Cameron, ever so observant, noticed that her teachers at boarding school (who had “overcome” same-sex attraction) were hurting. Even her aunt, who sent Cameron to boarding school, was not entirely unlikeable. She was doing, in her own miseducated way, what she thought was best for her niece.
This novel, more than any other I have read, reflects life as it really is, especially when it comes to queer and religious issues – complicated, messy, and full of gray areas. The characters – all of them – are written with compassion and empathy. And underneath it all is Cameron’s unique story, one that encompasses not only her queerness, but other tragedies and triumphs of her adolescence. I feel grateful to have discovered this book, and to have witnessed Cameron Post’s healing, learning, and growing up.