TITLE: The Miseducation of Cameron Post
AUTHOR: Emily M. Danforth
RELEASED: February 2012; Balzer + Bray
GENRE: YA Contemporary
FORMAT: Library Paperback
KEY INFO: Born again Christianity, conversion school, coming of age, coming out, family breakdowns, friendship squad goals
REPRESENTATION: lesbian MC, f/f romance, Christianity, physical disability, Native American two-spirit character, queer
CONTENT NOTICES: forced gay conversion therapy, homophobia, transphobia
Similarly to Starfish, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a book that I wish with all my heart that I could have read as a teenager but that I am still so happy to have discovered as an adult. I very rarely connect with films and books on such a personal level, but The Miseducation of Cameron Post is one of those rare books that resonates with me to such an incredible depth. Although Cameron Post is a world away from me in the States, her experiences spoke so closely to my own and I’m sure there are many others who also relate.
Emily M. Danforth’s unforgettable debut novel is about a young queer girl, Cameron Post, and her experiences of growing up queer in Montana. We first meet Cameron when she is 12 years old during a long, dry Montana summer when she is starting to experience feelings towards her best friend Irene. The two girls begin to experiment with kissing each other, under the guise of “practicing” for when they go to high school. However, something else is about to happen that will turn Cameron’s world upside down even more than kissing another girl – her parents die suddenly in a car crash. Torn and feeling immensely guilty, Cameron can’t help but feel that the car crash is God’s punishment for her sinful behavior and all Cameron can think about is pure relief that her parents will never discover the truth.
This relief doesn’t last long though as another earth-shattering occurs when Cameron’s born-again Christian Aunt Ruth decides to move in with Cameron and her Grandma. Then the stunningly beautiful Coley Taylor moves into town. She’s the perfect cowgirl and forms an intense friendship with Cameron, much to Cameron’s surprise. But naturally, things begin to develop between the two girls and before Cameron knows it her Aunt and the local Pastor are sitting Cameron down on her dad’s old armchair to tell her that they know everything and think it’s ‘for the best’ that Cameron is sent a Christian ‘school’ miles away from her previous life. Here, Cameron meets other young people like her who are all fighting their own ‘sinful behaviours’ with the encouragement of the leaders of the school, one of whom is a ‘converted’ homosexual.
I loved Cameron so much and I really enjoyed spending such an extended period of time with her. I know that other readers felt that the novel pacing was far too slow but for me it was perfect. I love character-driven stories, like Manic (dir. Jordan Melamed ), that really take a long time to unfold and allow us to develop a really strong bond with our main character. I loved that we were able to experience a real journey with Cameron right from when she was 12 years old up until she was 17. This is one of those books where I felt like I had almost lived another life by the end of it and I felt really sad that I wouldn’t be spending any more time with Cameron.
Homosexuality and Religion
I am not a religious person and there have never been any expectations placed on me by my family to be. Although I have religious friends and a religious partner, it is not something that has ever affected my queerness or any other aspects of my life, so I found it really interesting to be exposed to many of the dilemmas that religious queer people face.
After Aunt Ruth moves in with Cameron, Christianity becomes a much more central part of Cameron’s life. She attends a Christian youth group called Firepower and words like sin are just like old pieces of furniture in Cameron’s world. I know that there are many queer people who grew up in religious communities who will have experienced very similar fears, doubts, and confusion as Cameron did. She lives in fear of other people finding out about her, of what they will think and say, and at all times is confused as to whether being gay really is a sin. When she is relocated to Promise these doubts continue to crowd her mind and she never knows quite what to think. Promise practices gay-conversion therapy and forces it’s disciples into ‘appropriate gender roles’ as part of their journey to be cured. To the leaders of Promise inappropriate masculinity/feminity and unresolved trauma turns people gay so naturally, if they are “re-educated” they will be cured of their sin.
Luckily for Cameron, she becomes friends with two of the most fantastic characters whilst they are all stranded at Promise. We have Jane Fonda (no, that’s really her name) who is a disabled lesbian who defiantly grows weed just outside of the borders of Promise and stores it in a little-hidden compartment in her prosthetic leg. And we have Adam Red Eagle, a Native American two-spirit person after his father converts to Christianity and believes that Adam’s femininity, oral fixations, and attraction to boys needs to be cured.
First of all, I loved this group to pieces. Adam and Jane are exactly the kind of people you want to have around you. I wish I could pluck them out of the pages of Cameron Post and just have them in my life. The support that they give each other makes my heart so warm. Naturally, there are a few disagreements within the group at times but they always come back together again because they love each other and help each other to fight the system. I loved Jane’s confidence and her ability to speak her mind about things. And do not even get me started on my love for Adam. He is the most beautiful soul ever and I will cherish him forever.
Whilst there are some striking differences between my experiences and Cameron’s, the similarities between our stories really struck a chord with me. No, my parents didn’t die in a car crash. I wasn’t indoctrinated by a born-again Christian family member or sent away to a Christian conversion camp. All things that I am very grateful for as I know there are still many queer teens in America who are being subjected to this by their “loving” families.
But, like Cameron, I did find myself being outed during a relationship with another girl. A girl who, like Coley, later told all of our mutual friends that I had been obsessing over her and it had been me who had instigated everything. I wasn’t sent to a conversion camp, but I did spend time in a teenager psychiatric ward where I formed my own unlikely band of disenchanted young people who didn’t want to be “fixed” through medication and endless group therapy sessions. And at all times I doubted myself, especially in later years when I was disowned by my family after coming out.
That’s why books like The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Starfish are so, so, so important. We need to see ourselves represented in the content we are surrounded by. We need to be told through these characters we become so attached to that we are valid, we are accepted, and we are loved. We do not need to change to please others, we do not need to be “fixed”, and we certainly don’t need to live our lives for other people.
It took me 6 years to finally pick up The Miseducation of Cameron Post. It had been sitting on my Goodreads TBR since 2012 and I am so thankful that I finally found my way to it. To me, this book is perfect. Obviously, that may not be the case for you and there may be things that you really don’t like about the book but I would really encourage others to pick it up and give it a go.
The book was also adapted into a film which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2018. It is set to be released in the UK on August 31st, 2018!