Meagan Kimberly reviews Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth, illustrated by Sara Lautman

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

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The book starts with The Story of Mary MacLane, a real-life figure in writing. It’s this book that the girls of Brookhants School for Girls center their Plain Bad Heroines Society around. But when three girls die and the book is found at both death scenes, it soon becomes a feared object. Even the women who run the school, Libbie Brookhants and Alexandra Trills, partners, have different experiences with the curse. Jumping to the modern-day, the contemporary heroines, author Merritt Emmons and actors Harper Harper and Audrey Hall, are working to bring the story of Brookhants to life.

Each generation of stories tied to Brookhants finds girls exploring their sexuality and following their desires. But it’s also a place where tragedy befalls so many of the heroines who only wanted to live freely. The horror of Brookhants embodies the curse that is the patriarchy against queer women.

Through the contemporary storyline, Danforth explores the exploitative nature of horror. The characters set out to tell the story of Brookhants and the tragic deaths, but their director, Bo, turns it into a found-footage documentary about the making of the movie. To do so, he engages in unethical behaviors and gaslighting.

Overall, the novel is never terrifying so much as it is atmospheric and creepy. It’s the epitome of Gothic horror, creating an environment that messes with the characters’ sense of reality. It makes the reader question whether or not they’re actually experiencing hauntings or if it’s all simply in their heads.


After so much build-up though with the curse of Brookhants, the yellow jackets and Orangerie events, the ending is anticlimactic. When establishing his plan to create a documentary, Bo enlisted Audrey to be his “inside woman,” telling her she’d be the only one who knew this plan. But it turned out they all knew what was happening and no one was really out of the loop. So it begged the question: Did any hauntings actually happen?


Among the characters, there aren’t any particularly great protagonists to root for, which is the point. The women aren’t plain bad heroines, but they’re not pillars of virtue and goodness either. They’re human, messy, capable of making good and bad decisions, and simply interesting. It’s hard not to become engrossed in their lives, even if they can be frustrating.

Danforth expertly created unlikable characters, especially with Bo and all the Hollywood types. They definitely give meaning to the phrase La La Land. Everyone in the three heroines’ circles has an agenda and openly uses and manipulates them, all for the sake of art. It’s this kind of toxic behavior that makes it easy to sympathize with Audrey, Harper and Merritt, even when they’re at their worst.

The writing is deft as Danforth switches back and forth between the timelines. The voice for each character is distinct, including the unnamed narrator. It’s even distinguished between the different timelines, the voice adapting to each era from historical to contemporary. 

anna marie’s 3 best sapphic books of 2021 so far, with honourable mentions

Here are some of the best sapphic books i’ve read so far this year, which i think everyone should read immediately considering how incredible, prescient, inspiring and sexy they are. 

  1. The gilda stories by jewelle gomez
The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez

this is my favourite vampire story i’ve ever read and i’m sad it took me so long to get to it because it’s a delight. Jewelle Gomez writes so tenderly about Gilda, the main character, who becomes a vampire after escaping slavery in the south in the 1850s. We then track through time, in and out of different people’s lives and into the future, but always following Gilda’s path. The way this novel animates history, demonstrating it’s ongoing effect on the present/future as well as community, especially black queer community, through the figure of the vampire is wonderful and inspiring. The changes that are made to traditional vampire lore/representation (which is so heterosexual usually) allow the novel to explore a whole wealth of meanings and experiences normally forgotten or seen as unimportant. The way the vampires in this novel drink blood is one of my favourite things about it because it’s so reciprocal and caring, basically a form of mutual aid between vampires & non vampires and not just a transactional or sometimes violent relationship. the afterword in my edition is by alexis pauline gumbs which was also so beautiful and definitely worthwhile reading too if you have access to it! – about black feminist legacies and the implications of writing a queer black woman vampyre both in the 1990s & in 2016 or so when a new edition was published.

Life was indeed interminable. The inattention of her contemporaries to some mortal questions, like race, didn’t suit her. She didn’t believe a past could, or should, be so easily discarded. Her connection to the daylight world came from her blackness. The memories of her master’s lash as well as her mother’s face, legends of the Middle Passage, lynchings she had not been able to prevent, images of black women bent over scouring brushes – all fueled her ambition. She had been attacked more than once by men determined that she die, but of course she had not. She felt their hatred as personally as any mortal. The energy of the struggles of those times sustained her, somehow.

  1. Lucy by jamaica kincaid  
Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid

I think some might find the inclusion of this book on a sapphic book list a surprise but i wanted to include it because the eponymous character, in my opinion, has a sexuality that is queer (or at least not heterosexual), because it includes making out with her best friend, peggy. Much like the novel this short novel is based on (Villette by charlotte bronte), Lucy is a judgemental and, to some, unlikeable character but i love her! I found being ensconced in her life and hearing directly from her was so fascinating; sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes curious.

Kincaid’s novel is mostly a coming of age story about what happens to lucy when she moves from the west indies to north america to work as a nanny for Mariah and Lewis’ children. She develops a complicated and interesting relationship with Mariah along the way and thinks about her own mother back at home. All the relationships in this novel are extremely vivid and extremely fraught with differing emotions and differing levels of power which makes for a really variegated glimpse into lucy’s mind and life. I don’t think i’ll forget lucy as a character or her experiences for a really long time!!

  1. Plain bad heroines by emily m danforth
Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

I’m pretty sure this 600+ page novel was made for me to enjoy – as someone who identifies in a lot of ways as a plain bad heroine (sometimes known as a dyke), i felt like i had to read this this year and i’m so glad i did. It’s a campy horror film pastiche with sapphism at it’s centre. Part fin-de-siecle horror book, part love letter to horror films and literary gossip novels, it combines the best of all these into an ambitious and at points genuinely terrifying (at least for me) novel that includes two main storylines, one at a rhode island boarding school in 1902 and a contemporary one which follows three plain bad heroines as they attempt to make a horror film about what happened.

It’s at times uncomfortable, at times sexy, at times gruesome and sweet, and whilst i did have a preferred storyline (the 1902 one which starts off with the tragic deaths of flo and clara by yellowjackets as they run away from family obligation and heterosexuality), i thought they ultimately melded together so well. A delicious, lesboerotic romp with a fun and distinctive writing style which included footnotes!! My favourite!!! Absolutely would recommend this to anyone who can read. 

Honourable mentions go to children’s murder mystery novel jolly foul play by robin stevens, which is set in a 1930s boarding school, and the mercies by kiran millwood hargrave, an ambient and beautifully written historical fiction novel set in the late 1610s in norway.

Rachel reviews Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

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A dark, haunting, gothic novel, Emily M. Danforth’s Plain Bad Heroines (2020) is a delightfully dark queer book with a complex and fun premise that was right up my alley.

Set across two separate timelines, the first begins in 1902 Rhode Island at the Brookhants School for Girls. Two students, Flo and Clara, are known to be uncommonly devoted to one another and to a writer named Many MacLane and her book. The two girls form The Plain Bad Heroine Society based around their love of each other and the book. But when their secret meeting place in the school’s apple orchard becomes the scene of their violent and startling deaths, a series of bizarre events begin to take place on the campus—haunting the students and staff until the school shutters for good five years later.

The second timeline finds us in the present day. Merritt Emmons publishes a hugely popular book about the darkly queer history of Brookhants School. The book inspires a film adaptation that introduces the reader to a cast of main characters. These three heroines will return to Brookhants for filming, but as they do, “past and present become grimly entangled” and the haunting forces that terrorized the Brookhants Heroines from a century ago may not be quite finished with their curse.

A layered story with multiple timelines and black and white illustrations by Sara Lautman, Plain Bad Heroines is an example of the neo-Gothic at its best. I absolutely loved this book. I ordered a copy as soon as a heard about its release, and I was not disappointed. Dark and Gothic, with characters that are thoroughly compelling and mysterious. The book alternates timelines and perspectives across chapters, but I never felt lost or confused. The narrative of Danforth’s novel is a complex one—it has many clues, red herrings, and conspiracies that constantly kept me guessing. And even then, I couldn’t guess the ending. I loved Danforth’s use of symbol and metaphor, and her investment in making both of her timelines as real and vivid as possible. In addition, the narration—with a cheeky narrator who addresses the reader and draws attention to the ‘storied’ nature of the novel—was fun and exciting and helped to organize the book’s complex plot.

The best part of Plain Bad Heroines is that nearly everyone is queer. Queer people abound across both timelines and I was particularly interested in Danforth’s portrayal of the queer women. Not only does Danforth link her modern and historic queer characters with each other through their shared and haunting experiences, but she also imagines a version of queer life in the early twentieth century that has an element of realism amongst her haunting and supernatural plot.

I could not recommend this book enough for those who love queer historical fiction, horror and the Gothic, or a good and dark mystery!

Please visit Emily M. Danforth on Twitter or on her website, and put Plain Bad Heroines on your TBR on Goodreads.

Content Warnings: Violence, physical and verbal abuse, homophobia

Rachel Friars is a writer and academic living in Canada, dividing her time between Ontario and New Brunswick. When she’s not writing short fiction, she’s reading every lesbian novel she can find. Rachel holds two degrees in English literature and is currently pursuing a PhD in nineteenth-century lesbian literature and history.

You can find Rachel on Twitter @RachelMFriars or on Goodreads @Rachel Friars.

Danika reviews Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

I finished this book back in November, but I have frankly been intimidated to review it. This is a big, twisty, ambitious novel that I’m still processing now, but I’m going to give it my best shot.

I have been eagerly awaiting this book ever since I finished the last page of The Miseducation of Cameron Post. This is my favourite YA book of all time, and ever since it came out, I’ve been following Danforth online to see what would come next. At some point, she talked about two different books she was working on: one tentatively titled CELESBIANS! and one that followed a copy of The Well of Loneliness throughout time called Well, Well, Well. As the years went on, I thought those had been abandoned, but after reading this book, I can see how they got incorporated into this story.

Plain Bad Heroines is a horror story that begins in a girls’ boarding school in 1902. There, a writer named Mary MacLane is getting a cult following. MacLane was a real-life figure who published her scandalous memoirs, now titled I Await the Devil’s Coming. They are feminist, bisexual, and blasphemous. (The ARC came with a page from Danforth explaining her coming across this author, and how frustrating it is that she only heard of her recently from a footnote.) There are two girls at this school who are particular fans of MacLane, and they sneak off into the woods to read it together (and to make out, let’s be honest). One day, a relative tries to split the two of them up, and they run further into the woods to try to escape. Instead, they stumble on a sprawling wasp nest and die gruesomely. They are found with MacLane’s book beside them, and more deaths begin to be associated with this copy of the book.

More than a century later, a book has been written about this history, and it is being made into a movie, and the women involved in the production begin to feel haunted by the past. There is Merritt, the young (cranky) genius who wrote the original book; Harper Harper, the “celesbian” star of the film; and Flo, a relatively unknown actor playing Harper’s love interest. They’re all queer, and they have a complicated relationship between the three of them. Merritt is critical, Flo feels out of her depth and vulnerable, and Harper tries to keep the peace between them (and hit on them). As they’re filming, though, they encounter mysterious events on set–it’s unclear whether this haunting has continue with them, or whether it’s all part of an immersive Hollywood experience.

That is the very bare-bones description of the plot, but that’s only scratching the surface. We also get the fascinating story of the headmistress’s founding of the school and the feud between the brothers on that land that is said to have started the haunting. There are so many different stories spiraling together, and almost all of them have sapphic characters (including the headmistress and her partner). The characters are flawed and complicated; they clash with each other.

This is billed as a horror-comedy, and there definitely is wry humor included. It’s self-referential and plays with horror tropes. At the same time, it is creepy and disturbing: you’ll never look at a wasp the same way again. This book is intricate and incredibly well-crafted: I was about two chapters into it when I thought, “Oh, this is how books are supposed to be written.” Even though it bounces around in time and between characters, it all locks together and never feels out of place.

I appreciated the skill involved here, and I love that this is such a queer book absolutely brimming with sapphic characters, but I’m not sure I’d say I enjoyed reading it. It was unsettling. I also felt like I couldn’t quite penetrate through to the core of the story. What started this haunting? What does it mean? I love that there are so many queer characters, but it also means that they are the ones being targeted: why? Is it a metaphor for homophobia? That feels too pat for this story, and it doesn’t quite fit. Is even asking that question too simplifying? I’m not sure I have the skills to unpack everything this story is trying to accomplish.

This is a complicated, ambitious novel that will leave you thinking about it long after you’ve put the book down.

Kathryn Hoss Recommends Lesbian Beach Reads

Every summer my entire obnoxious/lovable extended family rents a beach house in the Carolinas for a week, and every summer I end up scouring Goodreads, Amazon, and the Lesbrary for “lesbian beach reads.” Usually, that phrase yields zero-to-few results.

I’m here to change that.

funhomemusical   unbearable lightness portia de rossi   PriceofSalt   FriedGreenTomatoes   the-miseducation-of-cameron-post-cover-final

Looking for a juicy tell-all for the drive down?
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel is one of my all-time favorites. The graphic memoir explores Bechdel’s fraught relationship with her closeted gay, perfectionist father and his unexpected suicide. Despite the subject matter, Bechdel’s tone is more thoughtful than ruminating, probing for the truth in a situation with many sides. As someone who was a baby butch at one time, it was a breath of fresh air to see myself reflected in child- and college-Alison. This read can be accomplished in a few hours.
Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi is another quick read, but it is not light. The memoir recounts de Rossi’s lengthy struggle with bulimia and anorexia, her journey from rock bottom, when her organs nearly shut down, to a very nice life with Ellen Degeneres and their horses. I will say it brought back eating-disordered feelings from adolescence that I didn’t know I still had– de Rossi’s devastating internal monologues can be triggering– but it’s an important story and an engrossing read.

The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith might be the perfect road-trip story, straddling the line between pulp novel and classic literature. You’ve probably already seen the 2015 movie, Carol, but I’m gonna say the book is worth reading too. Highsmith’s prose tends to maunder in details that I thought not at all necessary to plot or characterization, but I found it interesting on an anthropological level to see Therese and Carol’s relationship unfold in 1952. Elements of the story are lifted straight out of Highsmith and her friends’ lives, adding to the realism. For the romance crowd, if you like the “Oh no, there’s only one bed and we have to share it!” trope, you’re gonna love this.

Looking for something profound so that when your relatives ask what you’re reading, you don’t have to feel ashamed?
I actually haven’t finished Fried Green Tomatoes by Fanny Flagg, only because the prose lends itself to be read slow as molasses. There is definitely a lot in this book that would not be considered politically correct. I don’t know how many times I’ve thought, “Is this a White Savior narrative?” The romance is also only one thread in a rich tapestry of family and food. But Fried Green Tomatoes feeds my soul because it depicts a lesbian-headed family living in the south, in the 20s and 30s, and no one ever says a word about them being different or wrong. I actually tried fried green tomatoes (the food) the other day. Spoiler alert: They were delicious.

I was going to do a separate YA section, but then I was like, nah. The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth is Literature. Set in small-town Montana in a fully-fleshed out fictional city, The Miseducation is so hyperreal, I kept thinking, “This has to be autobiographical, right? No way someone could make up that much detail.” And yet, danforth did. Right down to watching the girl you like skid her flip flop a little too far away and lunge to pick it up with her toes. A bittersweet story of parental mortality, thwarted teenage love, and coming of age, I couldn’t bring myself to read this one on the beach because it made me feel like my heart was in my throat.

secondmangocover   LoveDevoursbySarahDiemer   ClimbingtheDatePalm-200x300   BrandedAnn   olive conspiracy

Looking for adventure, romance, and fantasy all rolled into one beautiful escapist mess?

Not gonna lie– this is what I consider a Certified Lesbian Beach Read. Sitting ankle-deep in the surf with wind sand-blasting my face and the sun encroaching ever-closer to my beergarita, I’m not exactly looking to think too hard. I want to see some salty pirate pansexuals, some transcendentally beautiful trans mermaids, and some lesbian ladies in full 16th-century attire making out on a tropical island.

First off, I can recommend Love Devours: Tales of Monstrous Adoration by Sarah Diemer. You can download “The Witch Sea” for free on Amazon separately, but my favorite story in this collection is “Seek.” I don’t want to give too much away, but I’ll say this: Mysterious sea woman. Girl-knight seeking to win the hand of a beautiful princess. Sultry enchantress. Intrigue! Also check out The Monstrous Sea by Sarah and Jennifer Diemer for its trans girl YA mermaid story, “True if By Sea.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention The Second Mango by our own Shira Glassman for its lesbian princess, her woman-knight BFF, her bisexual long-lost love, and the tropical, vaguely Floridian setting in which they frolic.

Finally, Branded Ann by Merry Shannon was a recent standout, well-plotted with a careful balance of romance and adventure. This is the lesbian Pirates of the Caribbean– a search for lost treasure, threats of mutiny, mayyyyybe some kind of supernatural being?? I also came away feeling like I learned something about 16th century piracy, all while enjoying sizzling hot sexual tension. My only gripe is the character description. I felt like had no idea what most of the characters looked like, except the two main characters, who were described in frequent and florid detail. Still, this was all I ever wanted, all I ever needed in a pirate romance novel. (This one comes with a trigger warning for sexual assault mentions.)

What are your favorite LBT beach reads? Let me know on the Goodreads list! (

Kathryn Hoss is an aspiring author and singer-songwriter from Ohio. She can be found at

Kit reviews The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth

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.

[The Miseducation of Cameron Post has also been reviewed at the Lesbrary by Anna M. and Danika.]

Casey reviews The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth

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.

Danika reviews The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth

If you follow other les/bi/etc book sites, or have been skimming the link round ups at the Lesbrary, you may have already heard of The Miseducation of Cameron Post. In fact, you may have already heard about it from a mainstream source, because Cam Post is published by a large publishing company (HarperCollins), and it’s been getting reviews all over, including in large newspapers. And that’s exciting, because there are not a lot of lesbian teen books, and it’s the demographic that is probably most in need of books that represent themselves. Not only is this a lesbian teen book that is getting publicity and therefore has a chance of making it into the hands of people who need it the most, it has been getting good reviews. Very good reviews, in fact. Needless to say, I have been really excited to get the chance to read and review it myself.

Cam Post is a big book, especially for teen lit–it’s pushing 500 pages–but I ended the book desperately wishing it was longer. Most of the book is paced pretty slowly, meandering through Cameron Post’s adolescence. It’s less of a coming out story and more of a bildungsroman: a coming-of-age story. Cameron struggles to come to terms with her parents death as well as her sexuality, while being raised by her conservative, religious aunt in a small town in Montana in the early 90s. The strength of Cam Post lies mostly in its protagonist, Cam, a film buff who decorates her childhood dollhouse with small, stolen tokens–weaving miniature gum wrapper rugs and wallpapering with used stamps–while drinking and exploring an abandoned hospital with the guys. Quirky enough to be interesting, but not so much to seem unbelievable, you can’t help but cheer Cam on.

Part of the appeal of Cam is emily m. danforth’s writing. She has a talent for establishing scenes, including all these tiny details that make the book come alive. Cam’s whole world is fleshed out to seem utterly believable–even characters that only appear for a few pages seem well-rounded and interesting. danforth establishes Miles City especially well.

It’s about half way through the book that the main tension of the book appears, and it only really comes to head near the end of the book. When I began to get near the end of Cam Post, I kept wondering how it was going to be wrapped up. And it isn’t, really. But in retrospect, I realized that the end really did fit the arc of the book. But I definitely would have been happy to have more, hundreds of pages more. I think it is unlikely that danforth would write a sequel, but I look forward to her future books either way.

Two small side notes: one is that I enjoyed that Cam Post was not just focused on one relationship. Cameron (minor spoiler) has several relationships throughout the novel, and they are not treated–as lesbian relationships in teen books often are–as if they are the defining relationship of her life. Each is significant, but Cam Post is about her as a person, not as half of a couple.

The other note is that I was pondering the meaning of the title when walking to work (I’ve actually been reading Cam Post while walking the last couple days, unable to put it down, but I got to a pedestrian-heavy spot), and I thought about how universal that “miseducation” is for queer people. We almost all have to first learn a version of the world that doesn’t include us, or that portrays us incorrectly, and then we have to relearn ourselves. The Miseducation of Cameron Post shows a more extreme/literal version of this, but I think it touches on something that speaks to most queer people.

The short version of this is that I adored The Miseducation of Cameron Post. I spent the day counting down when I could read it, reading it while I walked to and from work and on my breaks. I would definitely put it in the hands of any les/bi/etc teen, and I would also recommend it for anyone looking for… well, for a good book! It’s compelling, interesting, and frankly beautiful.

Anna M. reviewed The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth

Emily Danforth’s debut young adult novel, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, got several positive reviews in the mainstream media (I heard about it from NPR, but it also got a coveted starred review from Kirkus). Miles City, Montana native Cameron Post is twelve when her parents are killed in a tragic accident near Quake Lake. Because she had just kissed her best friend Irene (and liked it), Cameron feels a certain amount of responsibility for their deaths, as well as relief that they will never find out. She withdraws into a world of video rentals and creative activity centered around decorating an old dollhouse with scraps and pocketed mementos. In high school, she strikes an uneasy balance with her grandmother and conservative Christian aunt while pursuing her own small-town rebellions. . . and the friendship and attention of the beautiful Coley Taylor. When the sexual tension between Cameron and Coley comes to a head, Cameron ends up at God’s Promise, a conversion camp for gay teens. There, despite the restrictive environment, she begins to address her feelings about the loss of her parents and come to some kind of peace with herself.

There’s a lot in this snyopsis that I’m leaving out: the importance of Quake Lake to Cameron and her family; Cameron’s boy/friend; her first fling and lesbian know-it-all friend Lindsey; little details about the town and the landscape of Montana; Cameron’s friends at God’s Promise, including Jane Fonda and her prosthetic leg; the early 90s references; the process of the conversion therapy . . . the book is not easily summarized, which is one of its strengths. It’s a complex narrative that weighs in at around 500 pages and apparently could have been much longer (great interview, scroll down for a mention of a “lesbrarian”). Danforth deftly weaves the threads of setting and plot together in such a way that the book’s length feels justified–a slow burn–rather than oppressive.

The story is set in the author’s home town, and Danforth calls the work an “autobiographical novel.” It’s clear from the detail that her Miles City is grounded in the real Montana, even as she adapts it to suit the needs of Cameron’s story. The chronological setting of the book is also intriguing. It opens in 1989 and follows Cameron through her first few years of high school. This mirrors my own experience almost exactly; I graduated from high school in 1995. The internet looms large due to its absence–if only it were a few years later, the reader thinks, Cameron could see the larger community of people that awaits her outside the boundaries of her world. Lindsey provides a glimpse of that wider world, from her liberal Seattle enclave, but wider acceptance will have to wait until Cameron comes to terms with herself and finds her own place.

It’s interesting that Miseducation was blurbed by Sarah Waters; the scope of Danforth’s work sometimes recalls the narrative sweep I loved about Tipping the Velvet, although the settings have very little in common. They are both lesbian coming-of-age stories, and Cameron and Nan are similarly out of their depth as they make their way through an unsympathetic and sometimes hostile world. Danforth leaves the ending somewhat open–Cameron has done some of the work she needs to do, especially where her parents’ deaths are concerned–but the book left me with a “what happens next?” complaint. I would like to spend more time with Cameron as she continues to grow up, and I wonder what’s next for Danforth.