The first sentence of emily m. danforth’s much-talked about debut young adult novel, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, is one of those opening lines you’ll never forget, like Jane Austen’s brilliant opening to Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Danforth begins her novel with this equally dazzling and stunning statement: “The afternoon my parents died, I was out shoplifting with Irene Klauson.” The rest of the novel, to my delight, absolutely lived up to the promising beginning. Cameron’s teenage tale is both a coming-out and a coming-of-age story, but it’s also more than that. It’s a story about a teenager, who happens to be a lesbian, dealing with the death of her parents, the infiltration of her smarmy yet well-meaning Christian fundamentalist Aunt into her life, the disintegration of her earlier bond with her grandmother, and, of course, the realization of her sexuality. Significantly, the novel also deals with (spoiler alert!) Cameron’s experience in a gay conversion camp. Props to danforth for including a disabled lesbian—who hides pot in her prosthetic leg, the coolest drug-hiding spot ever!—and a two-spirited teenager—who explains to the white kids what exactly his identity is—in the part of the novel that deals with the camp.
I couldn’t help being brought back to my own teenage and high school years while I was reading about Cameron trying to sift her way through life; danforth has a definite talent for evoking the specificity of Cameron’s late 80s/early 90s adolescence and for expressing the simultaneously reckless and terrified feeling of being a teenager—particularly in a rural place. I also couldn’t help but love Cameron. In many ways, she’s the kind of queer teenager I wish I could have been, if I’d been less clueless, more brave, and funnier. Plus, Cameron dates a ton of girls! As Danika pointed out in her review, it’s rare that an LGBTQ young adult novel treats relationships as anything less than the defining point of the main character’s life, so it’s really refreshing to see Cameron’s queerness celebrated, not because she finds her ‘one true love’ at the ripe old age of 16, but because it’s simply part of the amazing person that she is. I cannot wait to read what danforth writes next, and her upcoming projects sound just as awesome as this novel (she talks about what she’s working on with another amazing queer YA author Malinda Lo here).
Cameron Post has been in some ways controversial, because it’s been marketed as a young adult novel and the book deals with some pretty heavy stuff, especially what happens at the gay conversion camp her aunt sends her to. The novel, by the way, deals with this topic compassionately and intelligently: danforth depicts the ex-gay leader of this camp in an honest, but difficult, way. Yes, these camps are misguided, disgusting, and dangerous, but danforth refuses to let us make the individual director into a monster and forces us to look at the larger social contexts at work. To get back to my original point: some librarians and booksellers are wondering if this book should be sold/catalogued in young adult sections. In addition to the ex-gay camp, the book contains underage drinking, swearing, pot smoking, and queer sex! Heaven forbid teenagers should read about what teenagers actually do! I don’t really have time for these arguments. This is a beautifully written, exciting, important novel; anyone with it in their hands should be doing all they can to get it into the hands of readers, especially queer teenagers—especially, queer teenagers whose parents wouldn’t want them reading it. If you’re reading this, you should not waste any time getting your hands on it soon too.