The afternoon my parents died, I was out shoplifting with Irene Klauson.
Every review I’ve read of Cameron Post starts with that line. Somehow, there doesn’t seem to be any other way. It’s a flash of the voice you’re going to know better than your own by the end of 300 pages, and her sadness and guilt and agile, bright humour becomes yours for a little while.
The night Cameron’s parents died, she had also been kissing Irene Klauson. And Irene Klauson had kissed her back. Eleven years old, it’s the summer of 1989, and Cameron is certain that the knock on her friend’s door means she’s been found out—about the stealing, the kissing, all of it—and that this might mean something terrible. Cameron’s first emotion when she finds out her parents have died is one of relief. Cameron never forgives herself for that, but she still likes girls. She still likes girls even after well-intentioned Aunt Ruth moves in from Florida to be her guardian, bringing her born-again evangelical ways with her. Anyone with a basic idea of plot knows what has to happen next.
The book can then divided roughly into two parts: Before Ruth Finds Out and After Ruth Finds Out. The first is a careful, but never slow, picture of the end of Cameron’s childhood and into her adolescence. It shows how she tries to get along with her hopelessly well-meaning, often resentful aunt. We share her love of swimming; watch the gorgeous friendship she develops with Lindsey, who appoints herself Cameron’s Lesbian Guardian Angel. We watch Cameron run with friends in the ruin of old hospitals, and watch countless films as a way to see how people on screen react to grief, and life in general, because she feels as if she has no idea how to be. We watch her fall desperately, often hilariously in love with Coley Taylor, and how that, in the end, gets Cameron found out. But that is not the whole story. That is just what is sketched in the blurb, in the book trailers. The real story happens After.
After Ruth finds out, Cameron gets sent (using her own college fund) to an evangelical camp. God’s Promise.
After Promise, Cameron finds that no one is quite what they seem, and that its easy to lose yourself when everybody tells you that is the right and godly thing to do.
This section of the book goes into stranger places than what came before. Watching Cameron adjust to life in Promise, it’s unsettling—as a “liberated” outsider, and queer person, who knows that these sort of camps are reprehensible and damaging and wrong—to see how…not evil everyone is. This is clumsy, I know. But it would have been easy to write a caricature of these people, this life. Danforth does not. She refuses to condescend in that way, and it makes for challenging reading as you find you can’t help but care for everyone even as many seem to kill, like Ruth, with good intentions. The students are just people—though some, like two-year veteran Jane who keeps a store of home-grown pot in her prosthetic leg, are more vividly drawn then others. Reverend Rick, the founder of Promise who has no head for business and a gift for the guitar, seems to genuinely care about the wellbeing of his “charges”. Many seem to want to be ‘cured’, and don’t seem brainwashed in the least (and yet, and yet, and yet!). Danforth’s writing does not help, here. It is smooth and nonjudgmental, even as, in the end, terrible things do start to happen, and Cameron makes an important choice.
This was a beautiful, unsettling read for me. There were many parts of The Miseducation of Cameron Post that, due to my own upbringing and sensibility, I could not understand, ranging from life in a Montana farming community to Cameron’s relationship with God. This book was, however, slice of life fiction in the best possible sense. If I didn’t understand, then Cameron (mostly) did, and it was a strange, often hilarious time, being in her life for a little while. This story is both passionate and compassionate, with some of the best first person narration Ive ever read. I know that with re-reading, I can get even more out of Cameron’s life.
In the end, I would recommend it for any child who has felt alone, and any adult who has been a child.