As part of my reading goal for 2015, I spent a lot my spare time this year powering through books. Earlier on in the year I decided to revisit a book I had originally loaned out from the library but never got a chance to start: The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth. Set in 1990’s rural Montana, we meet the protagonist Cameron at the age of 12 beginning to explore her sexuality and attraction to females and are quite quickly faced with the tragedy of her parents dying in a car crash. From then on we grow up with Cameron as she begins high school, makes new friends, goes to prom, and faces several challenges including the mourning of her parents, having to battle with her hidden sexuality, living with a religious, conservative Aunt, and most pivotal in the book – her being outed and sent away to a Christian “de-gaying” camp called Promises, and with that her defiance and refusal to be changed or re-educated. According to the author the novel’s plot was influenced by the 2005 Zach Stark controversy in which a teenager was sent to a “de-gay” camp similar to Promises when he came out to his parents.
Although the book made me want to scream and rave and rip every single child in this fictional camp out of the book and banish all the anti-homosexual characters from their lives, I actually enjoyed following along Cameron’s journey of self-discovery in her teen years. It’s one of the first books I have read where the protagonist isn’t heterosexual, which was a refreshing and educational experience as a reader. Cameron’s awkward stumble through crushes, high school classes, summer days and first jobs helped me to connect with her, having gone through all of those experiences myself. She’s a headstrong girl making her way through life’s challenges as best she can, and you can’t help but like her in all her courage, efforts and self-discovery. As Cameron stays true to herself and her beliefs the reader gets behind her and does just the same, rolling your eyes at the antagonists and feeling the rush of excitement and support as Cameron attempts to find ways to escape the camp.
The ignorance and brainwashing of the camp’s staff and supporters made me furious, but Cameron’s cheeky comments and small acts of defiance made you really root for her. It really makes you realise that in 90’s Southern USA, this would more often than not be the status quo, and although devastating, Danforth stays true to her setting and presents the reader with a reality they might find hard to accept and turn it into a learning experience. One thing I found concerning was the fact that Cameron’s sexuality almost becomes the central plot of the book, bouncing from girl to girl – and occasionally a boy, which only solidifies her homosexuality – and may fall into the category of characters becoming recognised solely for the sexuality and having their story lines built from that and that alone. But I believe in this case it works somehow, because there is clearly a much deeper message beneath the pages waiting for the reader to unlock. A roller-coaster of emotions, teenage angst and discovering yourself, The Miseducation of Cameron Post was one of my favourite reads of the year and a must-read for young adults looking for a different take on LGBT+ stories.