I’ve been alternating between reading upcoming books and catching up with books already out that I’ve missed and recently read ALA William C. Morris Debut Award finalist, The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth (Balzer + Bray, $17.99, paperback coming in May). A customer ordered it, and I decided it was definitely a novel I needed to read. After all, it’s set in the early 90s, which is precisely when I was a teenager. I’ll say up front that it took me a while to get into this book. At close to 500 pages, it is rather hefty and I do think that perhaps the first 100 pages or so could have been edited. But it was worth continuing and the second half of the book was incredibly engaging.
On the day that Cameron kisses her best friend, Irene, her parents die in a car crash. Although cosmically unrelated, Cameron can’t quite separate the two events in her mind. The arbitrary connection doesn’t stop her from wanting to kiss Irene again, kissing Lindsay a few years later, or falling for Coley in high school and kissing her. But this is the early 90s, and in the spirit of LBGT lit, someone is bound to find out about Cameron eventually. And the are not going to like it. Cue born-again Christian aunt, who eventually sends Cameron to a religious conversion school for troubled youth (oh god, youths!), much like But I’m a Cheerleader. It’s at this moment, when you’re so angry at the complete ignorance of all the adults in Cameron’s life, that the book actually starts getting interesting. Mostly because Cameron is smart. Despite the loss of her parents, despite her complete lack of role models, and despite the fact that the two friends she cared about the most have both abandoned her, she knows who she is and that this conversion school is crap. Cameron makes an interesting comment about the conflation between the homophobia and psychology that pervades her treatment. She knows that conversion isn’t meant to help her or her peers, it’s meant to make them hate themselves. She pegs it as emotional abuse. The desire to save her soul is intrinsically intertwined with the desire to extinguish her. Reading a book like this makes me grateful for the things that have changed and horrified by what hasn’t. After a tragedy strikes the school, Cameron calls out the minister, “You guys don’t even know what you’re doing here, do you? You’re just like making it up as you go along and then something like this happens and you’re gonna pretend like you have answers that you don’t even have and it’s completely fucking fake. You don’t know how to fix this. You should just say that: We fucked it up.” Wish I could have been that articulate when I was in high school.