The Miseducation of Cameron Post, by Emily Danforth

Oh boy. Ooooooh boy. Where to start. Well then, let’s start by saying I didn’t think I’d like this book so much. Which is saying something, because I started reading it with fairly high expectations. Make no mistake, I was not expecting this book to completely change the way I see the world or to provide me with some other life-changing revelation, but I was expecting a solid young adult novel dealing with a not-so-easy theme (gay “conversion” therapy) in a serious, yet approachable way. What I got was so much more than this.

For those of you who don’t know what Cameron Post is about, it follows the early teenage years of, you guessed it, Cameron Post, who is a young girl living in Miles City Montana. She’s about twelve when she gives her first kiss (to her best friend Irene) and that same day her parents die in a horrific car accident. (No worries, this is not a major spoiler, it all happens within the first 30-ish pages). After a while life goes on, and so does Cameron’s messy romantic life, the romantic life of a closeted gay teenager in small-town Montana. That is, until, she is outed and her overly conservative Christian aunt decides to send her to God’s Promise an intensive “rehabilitation” school for homosexual teenagers.

The first thing I was very surprised about, is how far along this turn happens in the book. Reading the blurb (or watching the movie trailer), you’d think this would happen pretty early on and that most of the book would be focused on her experience at God’s Promise. In fact, the first half of the books is completely dedicated to a good chunk of Cameron’s early teenage years before her outing. In this first part of the book we read about Cameron dealing with the death of her parents, shifting friendships, heart-breaking crushes, teenage insecurities and so much more. I loved reading about dorky teenage Cameron struggling to talk normally with her crush, or fighting with her over-imposing aunt, and most of all developing a surprisingly snarky and biting humour that I absolutely adored.

The second thing I was very surprised about was just how many lesbian girls live in Miles City, Montana. Just seriously, how many? How does Cameron manage to find them all? Well, I mean, good for her I guess.

Jokes aside, Cameron is then shipped off to Gay Camp God’s Promise, where she is left completely alone by her family and former friends. This is maybe the part I found most interesting from a narrative and literary point of view. First of all because it does not buy into the narrative of “poor self-hating gay kid with internalised homophobia who struggles to reconcile their homosexuality with their Christian beliefs/discrimination by family and peers/whatever”, which may well be true for some, but honestly, I’ve had enough of this stereotypical “gay struggle”. Cameron is very clear from day one about not buying into any of God’s Promise “find yourself in Jesus by wearing makeup” crap. She’s headstrong, sassy, and as outspoken as possible about what she thinks. And she manages to do that without sounding like the annoying “I’m rebellious and will tell people off and do what I want always ’cause I’m tough and too cool” white girl character that sometime infests these novels. No, Cameron is deeply and painfully aware of what’s at stake, and what she needs to do to stay safe. She know she has to survive this thing, and that the only way to do that is a) keep your mouth shut and do what they say, when you need to and b) find your support network to be your authentic self with, which is very much a common experience in the LGBT+ community in every corner of the world.

Not only that, the book is also deeply authentic in showing what the devastating psychological effects of “conversion” therapy can be. Danforth does not shy away from presenting this institution (idea? approach?) in all its crudest and most horrifying aspects. That is, for example, isolating people from the outside world, in order to brainwash them (and Cameron’s struggle with that is shown in all its emotional depth), instructing the “disciples” to tell on each other, therefore creating a regime of fear and control, up to [and this is a major spoiler so feel free to jump ahead] pushing people to self harm, and not taking responsibility for it.

Maybe that’s the word: authentic. I think this book is first and fore most surprisingly authentic. I found myself going “Yes, yes, exactly!” more than once as I was reading it (albeit me personally never having been sent to Gay Camp), and it left me with a sense peace and understanding. Cameron Post is a book that understands people, profoundly. It understands how we work, our motivations, and how we are, ultimately, all very human (abut that, I absolutely loved how complex Cameron’s relationship with her aunt was!).

I know a lot of people didn’t particularly like how dragged out the book was (it’s 470 pages, which is quite a lot for YA standards), which is something I can sort of sympathise with. Some bits did feel a bit dragged out and some scenes could’ve been left out (I’m curious to see which ones were cut in the movie!), and a few landscape descriptions were definitely a few too many (there’s just so many paragraphs you can read about the crisp Montana mountain air or the shape of leaves). Nevertheless, do not let this put you off! I felt it was a very marginal flaw and one that did not impact my enjoyment of the book at all. I was sucked in prom page one and I was looking forward to my commute each day just so that I could spend some time with Cameron and all the other characters.

In short, this book went above and beyond my expectations, depicting such a delicate story with a brilliant, authentic and tactful voice. I adored this book from page 1 to 470. I read my library’s copy and accidentally spilled water on it, and I’m not even mad about having to buy a new copy if it means I get to keep the old one. That’s how much I loved it.

This is M signing out for now ✨

PS: Se siete italiani e volete leggere questo libro in italiano, è stato tradotto da Lia Celi con il titolo “La diseducazione di Cameron Post“, edito da Rizzoli. Potete leggere anche un estratto di lettura.

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