Warnings (some spoilers):
- Sexual Content: Two consensual semi-graphic sexual scenes between underage girls (ages 15-16 yo); a few light-hearted references to sexual encounters both real and imaginary; brief, non-explicit recounting of a sexual encounter between an adult man and an underage boy acting as a sex worker
- Drugs and Alcohol: Frequent use of alcohol by underage individuals (ages 14-16) as a social activity; frequent use of cannabis/weed by young teens (ages 14-17) for recreational purposes
- Homophobia: Overtly expressed homophobia within the context of Christianity throughout the course of the novel; teens are exposed to conversion therapy and made to deny their identity to serve the Christian God in an enclosed setting; this is directly questioned by the protagonist and other characters
- Depiction of Mental Health: homosexuality or fluid gender identity are treated as a mental illness by some characters in the novel and queer characters receive therapy to correct this perceived illness; the protagonist is not diagnosed but shows some symptoms of depression; a character who is not the protagonist self harms in a graphic but off-screen manner and is hospitalized as a result
- Character Death: Two characters die in an off-screen car accident early in the novel
The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Cam Post)is a novel by Emily M. Danforth about the young protagonist, Cameron, struggling with her sexuality in the midsts of the early nineties with the added complications of the death of her parents and her religious community. The novel follows Cameron from middle school to high school, documenting her relationships and growth as a teenage lesbian in Montana, and her eventual relocation to a school dedicated to leading her away from a life of homosexuality to one closer to God. Despite the grim setting and subject matter of the story, Danforth keeps the overall tone relatively light and fills the story with the sarcastic and lovable voice of the protagonist while creating a perfect portrait of youthful nostalgia. Full of old video rentals, not-quite-over-exaggerated religious practices, and teenage rebellion, The Miseducation of Cameron Post presents a fresh take on the story of a person finding herself in a world where nothing seems to fit.
The copy of Cam Post that I own is well-worn and weathered, many pages bent at the corners and some wavy with water damage from the rain. Most of this can be chalked up to the book being one I bought used, but some portion of its rough (loved?) condition is due to my own hands rifling through the pages for the past few years. Rereading the novel this most recent time only cemented something I already knew: The Miseducation of Cameron Post is my favorite book.
With a delicate quill dipped in badassery, Danforth masterfully connects with and navigates the teenage experience, talking through Cameron with just the right touch of sarcasm, humor, and angst. Like many teens, Cameron is finding her identity and place in the world, and more specifically, like many queer teens, this identity isn’t exactly what is expected of her and is constantly being compromised by the girls she falls for.
The most standout element of Danforth’s style, in my opinion, is how effortlessly she weaves in concrete, juicy, speaking-directly-to-the-senses details that bring her readers into the story, into the moment, and into Cameron’s head. Although I was a decade too late to grow up in the early 90s, Danforth slips me into 1989 Miles City, Montana, with ease from the first page onward. The nostalgia for childhood summers that don’t belong to me seeps into my skin, inked in by Danforth’s hand.
Emotionally driven, Danforth manages to capture feelings I, myself, can never put into words and takes the too-big-to-explain concept of what it’s like to grow up as a lesbian in a conservative area and makes it tangible for those who haven’t experienced it. I never feel more connected to my identity, history, and community as I do when I read through Cameron’s story.
Throughout The Miseducation of Cameron Post, the lead character, Cameron, faces harsh obstacles. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Cameron remains resilient, strong, and even retains her dark sense of humor throughout the book, and it is because of this that the book isn’t overwhelmingly depressing. Cameron goes through a lot (a lot), but the reader is spared the brunt of the heaviness due to the voice Danforth cultivated for Cam. She is a stubborn, witty, sarcastic character who takes the time to notice the small things that make life a little less bad: a loose strand of Christmas lights, cheesy movies, pretty girls—and pissing her aunt off. Even when she’s subjected to the exhausting tearing away of her personhood by God’s Promise Christian School and Center for Healing, she continues to rebel in both her actions and mind, never forgetting herself no matter how lost she feels.
Her perseverance and “screw you” attitude is what makes Cameron Post as a character. She’s so realistic, so tangible to me. She never apologizes for liking girls—her only regret is being found out. Danforth makes it clear through Cameron’s story that the adversity we might face in life doesn’t mean we’re wrong for being who we are and loving who we love.
Overall I think The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a worthwhile read for anyone, but most specifically for teen/young adult queer/gay girls looking for someone to understand them, because I think that necessary understanding and comfort through similar circumstances is exactly what Cam Post provides. Like Danforth quotes on her website, “when anyone asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story” (Mystery Manners, Flannery O’Connor), and so, I urge anyone with an interest in coming-of-age stories, LGBTQ experiences, or great works of fiction in general: pick up a copy of this book and have a look for yourself!
Nyla Linn (She/Her)