— 柊杏 (@librarianatarms) October 17, 2014
I finished reading Emily M. Danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post yesterday during my lunch break. I first heard about it recently, when it was removed from a Delaware school’s reading list (and the reading list was subsequently cancelled entirely to avoid controversy.*)
*spoiler: it didn’t work
Officially, Miseducation was removed for “profanity,” but let’s all be honest here: it’s because Cameron is a lesbian, and because she’s resistant to the “ex-gay” therapy she receives at a Christian “school” where she’s sent by her evangelical aunt when she’s outed by a “friend with benefits.”
I didn’t grow up anywhere near Miles City, but it sounds an awful lot like Milton(, Vermont). The profanity never sounded gratuitous to my ears; that’s how rural kids talk. We didn’t have a cool old abandoned hospital, but we did have a broken down creamery where teenagers went to smoke weed and graffiti walls. I only went in there once, as a senior, in broad daylight. I was never one of the “cool” kids like Cameron, who grieve by acting out.
Cameron is sent to Promise by her evangelical aunt, who raises her after her parents die suddenly in a terrible car accident. This is going to sound weird, but bear with me: I felt like the “dead parents” thing didn’t fit in with the story. It was the one thing that didn’t quite work for me, although Danforth’s writing rang painfully true when Cameron talks about how she never knew her parents as people, and how they became saints in her memory, untouchable because she felt so guilty, like they died because she was kissing a girl and shoplifting.
My father passed away when I was fourteen, the summer before I started high school. Unlike Cameron’s parents, my family saw my father’s death coming. I guess I wanted her parents’ deaths to play into her character more – the only time it came up directly was when her counselor suggests that her parents’ parenting mistakes “made” her act out on “inappropriate gender identity” and “sexual sin.” At the same time, I knew how after a parent dies, it’s everything but also nothing. How do you write that? I don’t know.
I wonder why Danforth decided to go with the dead parents route. After all, it’s not like parents never send their kids to “ex-gay/conversion therapy” – although it is now banned in many states, at least for minors.
Either way, I couldn’t put it down. The first half or so seemed long, but maybe that was because of the sense of impending doom. Everyone knows Cameron gets sent to Promise, so every time she kissed a girl, I kept wondering, is this it? is this the time she gets caught?
In Kat’s article about the book banning controversy, she says
It’s a lot like But I’m a Cheerleader except a lot less campy and a lot more depressing. It takes place around the same time as the cult classic movie, beginning in 1989. It was the year I started elementary school, and if the world was a different place for LG and B youth, trans youth didn’t even “exist.” Don’t expect the novel to be painless if you grew up queer in the 90s. Having read the novel, I can attest to its impact, since I did grow up queer in the 90s.
I’m a little younger than Kat, and much younger than Cameron. I was born in 1989. But I grew up in a rural town like Miles City – only, we didn’t even have anything exciting like the Bucking Horse Sale – and I remember VHS tapes and looking through the tiny rental store for something, anything out of the mainstream. (I wasn’t looking for queer content, because approximately every person I ever knew realized I was a lesbian before I did. I was looking for anime, and the one thing the rental shop had available was Princess Mononoke in the “Adults Only” cabinet.)
Maybe it was that, or Danforth’s beautiful writing, but I believed in Cameron in a way I haven’t believed in a story protagonist in a long time. Maybe it was the first person narration? I don’t know. I wrote before about how we lose some of that immersive reading we had as tweens when we get older, but I found it again in this book. It’s that good.
The ending left me hungry for more, but in what I think of as “a His Dark Materials way.” I want to know what happens to Cameron throughout the rest of her life, immediately after up to wherever she’s writing from, but I don’t want to be told. I don’t think I want a sequel. (Of course, I would read one, if Danforth wrote it.) Some of Cameron’s reflective narration hints that she turns out okay, especially when she’s reflecting on the pseudoscientific nature of her “therapy” at Promise.
I resisted the urge to run around, recommending this book to everyone I’ve ever met until I finished reading it. (Last time I enthused about a book I hadn’t finished reading, I was disappointed by the ending and had to eat my words.) Now that I know how it ends, I can say, wholeheartedly, “everyone I’ve ever met and everyone I’ve never met should, without a doubt, read this book.”