May 15, 2015

Book Review - The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

This is a sensitive and thought- provoking read. The surety of touch by this debut author is astounding. Cameron is 12 when the novel opens and her life is just turned upside down by the death of her parents in a car accident. Her conservative, religious Aunt Ruth, and her well meaning, but ineffectual grandmother, take on the parenting role, something neither of them were expecting or feeling confident about. 

Cameron has feelings for girls not boys which has its own issues and her teenage years also involve all the normal teenage issues; trying out for the swim team, going to the Prom, getting a summer job etc. Her time on the swim team leads to meeting Lindsey, who comes from a more liberal area and displays a confidence in her sexuality that eludes Cameron.  Cameron lives in a conservative, Christian community and when her 'sins' are discovered, she is sent to a Christian camp where it is hoped that she will find their faith and turn away from homosexuality. Her frank account of time in the camp feels very true, describing the schedule of activities, the one-on-one counseling and the room inspections and many other rules. I thought this may be a polemic against such places, but she comes to understand that the people who run it are fully engaged in their belief system and well meaning.  These are not nasty people but they have a deep belief system that does not include gay people. For the teens who share that faith, and therefore have much more of a struggle in trying to change themselves, believing that their own natures are wrong, the camp is much more confronting than for Cameron, who does not share the same faith and sees the camp as just something to get through.

Cameron is just starting to question whether there is any actual scientific basis for the therapies they administer, or any evidence of their success, when a tragic incident occurs, providing a trigger for the novel's ending. The camp does provide a place for Cameron to think about who she is, to make friends and to grow up.  The supporting cast of teenage characters are well imagined and well-drawn, their actions and reactions feel real, their risk-taking believable, their care and compassion for each other heartfelt and their life force engaging. The camp helps Cameron realize her true self, it's just not the self they were trying to bring about.

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