Monday, September 14, 2015

Fiction | The Many Pieces & Parts of Cameron Post

I don't know where I found the suggestion to read The Miseducation of Cameron Post as the LGBT title for my Read Harder Challenge, but emily m. danforth's debut YA novel certainly surpassed any expectations I had of it. I guess I assumed it would be just a generic YA novel, but I found it to be so much more; it immediately became my favorite read of the whole year, in fact.

The story opens in 1989 when Cameron Post is a twelve-year-old living in rural Montana. It's summer, and she's spending it, as usual, with her best friend, Irene. They spend the long, broiling hot days swimming, riding bikes, and sleeping over at each others' houses. They are your typical middle school best friend duo, joined at the hip, where the line between each others' life is blurred.

All of this we learn from Cam's recollections as she paints the picture of her life as it was on the day her parents died in a car crash. Cam struggles with the death of her parents, as any preteen would, but mostly she's grateful that her parents will now never find out that she had been kissing Irene on the day of their death.

What follows is the next five years in Cameron Post's life as she deals with both devastating loss and confusion surrounding her own sexuality. To Cam, the two are inextricably linked, and though it's only by sheer coincidence, the perceived cause and effect quietly wreak havoc on her developing belief system and identity. We follow as Cam escapes one type of debilitating emotion by careening forward into another that is precariously uncertain. Life as she knew it with her undemanding, though old-fashioned, grandmother is thrown out of balance with the arrival of her over-involved conservative aunt Ruth. In an era devoid of today's prevalent LGBT movement, in a conservative town that lacks any diversity (social or otherwise), in a household run by a born-again Christian, Cam is trapped, unsure as to whether her feelings are right or wrong.

But this isn't a story about a girl who is torn apart with a lot of introspective debate on whether what she feels is enlightenment or shame. Cam just does. She test boundaries; she follows her instincts and desires. The greater her doubt and uncertainty weigh, the more reckless her behavior becomes until eventually, predictably, it all comes crashing down. At the behest of Aunt Ruth, and with no audible objection from grandma, Cam is sent to a Christian camp to "fix" her gay problem.

What astounded me about this book was its maturity of language. It never reads like standard YA-level stuff. Not only is the phrasing itself beautifully evocative, Cam's voice is written with a sort of detached sense of awareness and understanding. Though written in the first person, never does her voice become passionate one way or another—it's very matter of fact, as though she already understands the significance of her actions and feelings. This character's development is a compelling portrayal of action and consequence; the story's details are often brutal and frank, lending an honesty to Cam's experience that neither sensationalizes nor sugarcoats it. I love how we are taken through several years of Cam's life and can see how both external events and her own adolescent development play pivotal roles in the creation of Cameron Post as a person, as a woman. She is a character we want to see succeed, or prevail, or just figure it out. And though the book obviously can't continue on forever, we are shown enough to believe, at the end, that she will be okay. Despite its hot-button and potentially heavy-handed subject matter, The Miseducation of Cameron Post presents a viewpoint that leans neither one way nor the other; instead, it shares one girl's story with great candor and sincerity. It is a story very much worth experiencing that I hardly feel I am doing justice.

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