Though I haven’t yet had the chance to read the other finalists, I was not surprised to see emily m. danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post on this year’s list, as it was my favorite young adult novel of this year, debut or otherwise.
Even though it is nearly 500 pages long, The Miseducation of Cameron Post was a story I didn’t want to end. It isn’t a novel to be devoured, but savored. Danforth’s fully rendered and compelling characters and a heartbreaking yet hopeful story make this a book that will stay with readers long after finishing the final page.
This is a book of lasting images. Through Cameron’s frank and honest voice, danforth paints a picture with words of what growing up gay in 1990s Montana might look like. The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a coming-of-age story about a young girl who kisses another girl for the first time the same day her parents die in an automobile accident. Her conservative, Evangelical Christian aunt comes to live with her, and when she finds out she’s experimenting with her best friend, sends her to a program where young people questioning their sexuality or engaging in same-sex relationships go through conversion therapy to “cure” them of their queerness. But the novel is so much more than that, and a simple summary doesn’t quite capture the magic of the story, which is why I thought it would be easier (and more fun) to explain the novel’s “aboutness” with photos.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is about:
Bubble gum — stolen just for the thrill of it.
Ferris wheels — and a wild emotional ride.
Watching 99 cent video rentals — and searching for characters and stories that represent a queer identity.
Discovering dinosaur bones on a Montana ranch — and how that can change a friendship.
Altering a Victorian dollhouse with found objects — and constructing a sense of self.
Summers spent swimming in a Montana lake — and jumping into the unknown.
Drinking Schnapps (and kissing girls) in an abandoned hospital.
Falling in love with a cowgirl — and what happens when people who disapprove find out.
An earthquake that reshapes the landscape — and experiences that reshape people.
What I love most about this novel is that while Cameron’s story is one full of hardship, there are no real bad guys. This isn’t even one of those stories full of “villains to root for and good guys to hate” (p. 40). It would have been easy to demonize Cameron’s aunt for sending her away to a “de-gaying” camp, or to portray the preacher and psychologist who run God’s Promise as evil. Instead, it’s obvious that all of these people have Cameron’s best interests at heart and truly care about her well-being.
Today’s readers, unlike Cameron Post, have more options when seeking out media with queer characters and themes. An increasing number of young adult novels feature LGBTQ characters (though still not enough), and as Emily Calkins points out in her post on novels with queer themes that appear on the yearly “best of” lists, a lot of queer YA lit is good. This is certainly true of The Miseducation of Cameron Post, a story that is very mature yet still reflects the teen experience and captures an authentic teen voice, is both literary and accessible, and is a classic coming of age novel that will stand the test of time.
— Molly Wetta, currently reading Ask the Passengers by A. S. King