review by MARISA
Cameron was twelve when both her parents died in an accident – and her first reaction to the news was guilt and relief, because (1) she had been kissing her friend Irene, and (2) they would never know. Her relief didn’t last long, as she was placed in the care of her conservative grandmother and Aunt Ruth. As she falls in and out of relationships, she realises that she’s a lesbian – eventually falling in love with bi-curious Coley. When their relationship was exposed, Cameron was shipped to a church camp that promises to fix teens of the “sin of same-sex desire”.
While I read a lot of queer YA fiction, I think this is the first that spans over a long time period (it follows about five years of Cameron’s life). The Miseducation… is rich with detail, and fully fleshes out Cameron’s character, as well as the people in her life – her best friend Jamie, both in love with and supportive of her; her first crush/relationship with Irene; her relationship with Lindsey, who ends up becoming a sort of mentor to her; Coley, struggling with her own sexuality; the “disciples” of God’s Promise; and even Cameron’s grandmother and Aunt Ruth. The writing, too, is rich with detail – from the description of the abandoned hospital, to the summer heat, and the lake where Cameron works as a lifeguard, danforth’s writing is vivid and real, but never sentimental. It’s just one of those books that I think is best when read slowly, because it’s definitely something to savour.
This book is painful and heartbreaking in many places – I was scared for Cameron from the moment she met Coley, hoping she wouldn’t fall, and then hoping she wouldn’t fall too hard, and then hoping she would make different decisions at certain points, but she didn’t, of course. She was a teenager in love with someone she knew would break her heart in the end, but it never stopped her from hoping things would be okay. When the story moves on to the next arc, where Cameron is sent to God’s Promise, well. I knew about the existence of these camps, of course. We have our own Muslim versions of them here. But I guess the image of them in my head is coloured by movies like But I’m A Cheerleader (which is a little on the ridiculous/funny side) and Saved! (where the camp was more for the parents’ peace of mind rather than trying to “convert” the teens) so the realistic depiction still took me a little by surprise. The way they tried to enforce gender binaries and dictating what is and isn’t gender-appropriate, and refuses to acknowledge the existence of homosexuality, instead categorising it as a sin of inappropriate desire – it was a place that taught kids to hate themselves, or a major part of who they are. It’s uncomfortable and scary to think of, not just because of the emotional abuse, but also because a lot of these things are still being taught in schools here, now. That isn’t even all of it – it’s the way these teachings are (metaphorically) beaten into the “disciples”. Cameron had observed about how she had changed despite not wanting to, how after being told the same thing over and over again some of it would begin to stick over time.
Cameron is a remarkable character. She’s funny and tough, someone I would’ve liked to know in school. She started out confused and sort of scattered, and while many might have been broken by a place like God’s Promise, it was her experiences there, and the people she met there, that helped her shape and solidify her sense of self. Cameron not only survived – she came out of it stronger.
There really is a lot more to say about this book, and I can’t seem to find the words to do so, or to even explain just how much I loved it. If there was one thing that I wasn’t quite satisfied with, it would be the ending – it felt a bit too abrupt, and there wasn’t any closure regarding Cameron’s relationship with Coley or her Aunt Ruth. But maybe it’s supposed to be that way, because real life rarely offers us neat endings. The Miseducation of Cameron Post doesn’t come across as an “issue book”, and it’s certainly not a romance – two categories I could fit most of my queer YA readings in. Instead, it’s a bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story of a girl who had to find out who she is and learn that she is different, and learn how to be different, in a world where she’s told that everyone ought to be the same. – Mari