I have intended to sit down and write this review for so long. I kept hoping to catch a showing of the film, but I haven’t yet. Now, I’m worried if I wait much longer, I won’t be able to remember the book in enough detail to write a coherent review! So, without waiting any longer, I’m giving you my thoughts on The Miseducation of Cameron Post.
Cameron Post loses her parents in a tragic car accident, on the same day she kisses a girl. The book begins here, and follows Cam as she grows up and learns more about who she is and what she wants. In high school, she falls hard for her friend, Coley. Through a series of situations, Cam is outed to her very conservative, Christian aunt–and her whole hometown–and is sent away to a camp for conversion therapy. There, she meets Adam and Jane, whose friendship and sense of adventure serve as both a comfort and catalyst in her experiences at the camp. This book is all about being true to you, in spite of what culture thinks about it, and the significance of finding a place you can belong.
I loved so much about this book, and it is one of my favorite reads of the year for sure. Cam’s story is important, relevant, real, and danforth offers up an authentic response to those who claim homosexuality is a “myth” that can be eradicated if you just believe hard enough.
TW: self-harm, homophobia, abusive language related to Christianity and biblical topics
What I loved:
- This is a coming-of-age story
This book is slow-paced and conversational. It’s told in the first-person, so we hear Cameron’s thoughts. She shares remarkable things about her life growing up, and we get to see her develop and learn and find who she is. The progression is so well-done, it’s perhaps one of the best coming-of-age stories I’ve ever read.
- Cam is unapologetically herself
Cameron is an amazing protagonist. She’s unlike many I’ve seen in books like this, mostly for her quiet strength. Even as she is learning about who she is as a person, she is completely and totally herself. There’s no other way to describe it. She questions her beliefs alongside her identity, and still she feels so strongly about who she is. And in spite of all that she experiences, the heart of her own being holds strong.
This makes Cam a fun character to read; it also makes her an essential role model. Young people can and should read this and look up to Cam, aspire to be like her.
- This is not a romance
In fact, this story ends up highlighting the experience of a “breakup” or heartbreak very well. And the story of a relationship ending–and, really, not-quite-starting, is unique to the YA book world. Moreover, because a relationship was not the focus of the story, we get great accounts of friendship, and I always love a story that can focus on those platonic relationships.
- You get an LGBTQIA+ education
Cam starts her journey into her sexuality at the very beginning, and she encounters different older, more “experienced” girls who teach her about LGBTQIA+ culture. As Cam is learning, the reader can learn with her. This doesn’t reach the level of an educational text, like Ash Hardell’s The ABCs of LGBT+ or Juno Dawson’s This Book is Gay, but it does teach and educate in its own way.
I apparently really enjoy the lesbian/straight guy friendships. This was also one of my favorite tropes in The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding. I think it’s handled equally well here. I particularly appreciate how, despite his own feelings, Jamie ultimately accepts Cam as she is. And he supports her through the entire story. While parts of their relationship are problematic, I think that makes it all the more authentic.
In my reading, I found Grandma to be an excellent character addition as well. She’s the closest thing Cam has to a real family for most of the story–even though Ruth is technically present–and her love for her granddaughter serves as a beautiful reminder that people can care even when they don’t understand. Grandma isn’t perfect, but she tries. She’s not a saint, but she’s also willing to admit she may not know everything.
- The conservative perspective of the small town and the religion is So. Realistic.
I’m from a small town, and I grew up in the Christian faith. I can say that, honestly, this is one of the best depictions of either I’ve ever seen in literature. The authenticity was actually triggering for me, because nothing was blown out of proportion. These conversations, experiences, clubs, interactions–all of them could. actually. happen. exactly. like. this.
The small town feels so real because they aren’t chasing Cam out of town with pitchforks; they’re simply erasing her from existence. The small town mindset is present and revealed for the actual danger it holds–Cam is afraid of physical violence from a select few individuals, and with real reason. Also, danforth does a great job of capturing exactly how many LGBTQIA+ individuals may be in your midst without you knowing–Cam meets several people “like her” in her hometown, but most are still closeted while there. The mindset is still perceived as dangerous, but for very real ways that relate back to our actual reality.
And the Christianity… I’ll speak more on this at the end of my review, but for now suffice it to say that I have heard every argument made here from people who actually believe what they’re saying. And instead of building a strawman argument based around the more ludicrous, extremist beliefs of a select few groups within Christianity, danforth uses the most prevalent perspective to direct her “controversy.” In doing this, she’s again made the whole story real. And people who “disagree with” LGBTQIA+ issues cannot as easily look at this and say, “We don’t think like that.” All around, it’s very valuable.
I’m doing a poor job of explaining this, I can tell–because while I understand and recognize the arguments the “Christian” group makes in this book, I don’t agree with them. So, what I’m saying is this book presents an authentic view of Christianity while still offering a convincing case for the cruelty, abuse, and ultimate inaccuracy present in programs related to conversion therapy.
- The trauma is tangential
There is a character in this book who “snaps” under the pressure of the controlling atmosphere of the Christian camp, but it’s not our main character. I thought this was an excellent choice stylistically, because we then got to experience the reaction of the bystanders. Most of the time in YA, the main character experiences the trauma, and we see their reaction to it. This is important, too, but I appreciate the original take on things here. I also think the tangential trauma helped cement how strong and self-assured Cameron is–she doesn’t break under pressure, even as she mourns when those around her do.
- The writing is beautiful
Seriously, the tone and style of this book is absolutely wonderful. The language is elevated, but not frivolous. The “sections” of the book fit together perfectly. There’s this well-constructed frame created from references to Cameron’s parents at the beginning and the end of the book. The book is long, and it’s slow-paced, but it’s not necessarily fluffy. When I have a book to read that’s over 400 pages, I rarely read word-for-word with no skimming, but this book held me at every line. That is a testament to danforth’s talent.
Things that could have been better:
Quite frankly, these things are so picky, I don’t even want to mention them. But I try hard to be a critical reader, so here we go:
- It’s pretty long
Yes, the writing is brilliant. Yes, it’s worth the whole thing. But it’s so long, I could see that turning many people away. Again, I rarely pick up anything over 400 pages. This one’s nearly 500. So, yes, I suppose it could have been a little shorter.
- The friendships are fleshed out better in the first half than the second
Cameron has, essentially, two sets of friends inside this one book. While the story is split nearly down the middle, I don’t feel that we get the same close look at Jane and Adam as Jamie and Coley. Thus, the ending bonding moments didn’t elicit the same emotional responses that much of the first half did. A greater connection to these later two friends could have been made.
Ruth was an enigma, and she was perhaps the most frustrating character. While she catalyzed many of Cameron’s experiences, her own foundation seemed to shift. I believe this may have been intentional, but at times it made some of Ruth’s choices and actions feel out of character. I think she needed to be rounded out a little better, so that we could have a more, fuller understanding of her motives and her reactions.
- I wanted more Mona
Speaking of enigmas, Mona is this mysterious friend who shows up in the beginning of the book, and while she remains a thought in the back of Cameron’s mind, she never becomes more for the reader. There’s a possibility–or at least an allusion to–her being “not straight,” but we never get a confirmation, or even a firm inkling. That kind of information, fact, or mention could have strengthened her significance, particularly as the ending suggests Cameron may be heading toward her for help. It seemed a waste to mention her and have her barely show up the whole time.
This book had a huge impact on me. I grew up in a culture almost identical to Cameron’s and I have heard all of these arguments. I’ve since stopped to give them any merit–I disagree with them completely, if there’s even a way to say “disagree” when the “alternative argument” is just that “people are all equal.” But reading thoughts and arguments so close to my own faith was jarring, to say the least. And this is where I think danforth’s power really lies–her story captures true experience, and it does, free of extremism and grounded in the fundamental Christian misunderstanding of identity.
In the end, I loved getting to know Cameron, and rooting for her. She’s such an admirable character, and her story is so important. I’m grateful to have it among the voices today, and I recommend it to anyone and everyone.