Emily M. Danforth’s first novel, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” begins when Cameron is 12 years old and both of her parents die in a car crash. Cameron battles feelings of guilt throughout the novel because when she found out about their death, she was relieved because she had a secret that they would never know about: she liked girls. After her parents’ death, Cameron’s conservative, born-again Christian aunt Ruth came to live with Cameron and her old-fashioned grandma.
Cameron lives in the conservative country town of Miles City, Mont., the same hometown as the author, and she was good at keeping her secret until Coley Taylor, a tall, blond, pickup truck-driving cowgirl moves to town. Cameron and Coley form a very close friendship, and without giving too much away, Cameron’s secret is soon compromised.
The evangelical Aunt Ruth won’t sit by and let Cameron’s soul be damned for her “sin,” so she sends Cameron to God’s Promise, a Christian boarding school specializing in helping teens “break free from the bonds of sexual sin and confusion.” At the school, Cameron makes friends with a few sneaky pot-smoking “disciples” — the school’s students — and they help each other through the trials of their situation.
It took me about 100 pages, which is only a small fraction of the 470 page novel, before I really got into the book, and then I couldn’t put it down. I think this is a culturally relevant coming-of-age story that will soon join the ranks of “The Catcher in the Rye,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” All of these stories deal with young adults coming to terms with the world. Holden Caulfield searched for what it means to be real in a world of phonies, Scout Finch dealt with racism in the segregated south, Huck Finn dealt with slavery and what it means to be a man and now Cameron Post deals with being a lesbian in a conservative, Christian state.
The God’s Promise section of the book was somewhat hard to read because it’s sickening and sad. The school’s leaders try to brainwash the disciples into abandoning their sin and letting Christ open them up to “true purity and rightness” — as though it were that easy. The disciples all come from varying backgrounds; Jane was raised on a commune, Mark’s father is a mega-church pastor from Nebraska, Adam is a Native American Winkte and Dane is a meth addict from Louisiana. Each of the disciples struggle to see their natural, normal impulses as “unnatural, sinful behaviors,” but how can a high schooler wrap their mind around being damned for something they have no control over?
Something I liked about the book is that Danforth doesn’t shove her views down the readers’ throats. I think what happens at the school is unacceptable, horrifying, tragic — I could go on and on about how awful I think religious attempts of “de-gaying” are, but as Cameron narrates it, it’s not so bad. She doesn’t view the teachers as monsters; she actually sympathizes with and sometimes pities them. Cameron’s unbiased telling is nice because it lets readers make their own decisions about the book.
While I’ll admit to shedding more than a few tears throughout the book, it wasn’t a depressing read — I enjoyed it. I highly recommend everyone read this book.
Lauren Gocken is a senior in secondary education. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.