Read for Banned Books Week.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post became the center of controversy earlier this year when it was banned by the Cape Henlopen School Board from the 9th grade reading list, after it was placed on the list by a consortium of librarians. Other books on the Blue Hen list included John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, Maggie Stiefvater's Scorpio Races, and Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell - 3 books I have previously read. In fact, in some ways, that particular quartet of books could arguably represent the most awesome spectrum of YA coming of age novels with female narrators to be published in the last decade.
The Fault in Our Stars, of course, is "coming of age as a young woman with cancer." Scorpio Races, while not set in contemporary U.S.A. like the other books, is "coming of age as a young woman in a poverty-stricken, patriarchal society," and Eleanor and Park is "coming of age as a young woman in an abusive household."
The Miseducation of Cameron Post, then, steps into the gap as "coming of age as a young woman who is a lesbian." Set in 1990's small-town Montana, this book is so much of its time and of its place that it is nearly palpable. This is a western novel. I grew up in the 1980's in medium-sized town in Idaho, and I recognized myself in this book. The long, hot summers, the county fairs, the swimming pool. Like Cam Post, I was a competitive swimmer. I made out with boys, and drank cheap-ass wine.
"Everything was heightened the way it always is when summer is slipping away to fall, and you’re younger than eighteen, and all you can do is suck your cherry Icee and let the chlorine sting your nose, all the way up into the pockets behind your eyes, and snap your towel at the pretty girl with the sunburn, and hope to do it all again come June."
You can divide Cameron Post into two distinct sections. Section one takes place in Miles City, Montana, as Cam is trying to figure who she is - what she is - and why she is attracted to girls. Her friend, Lindsey, from progressive Seattle, is open about her sexuality in a way that Cam, living in Miles City, cannot be. But Lindsey susses out Cam and is the one person with whom she can be honest. Cam falls for a girl named Coley Taylor.
“Well, I’m fucking sorry that I have to, but this is not healthy progress for a dyke in training. Pining after straight girls—straight girls who are, by the way, in happy relationships with good-looking straight boys—when you live in a town filled with angry, Bible-pounding, probably gun-toting cowboys is a total no-win.”
Someone, in demanding that the book be banned, described it thus:
"It details quite explicitly among other things the proper etiquette for performing oral sex…Several of the reviews describe the book as a road map or guide book on how to become a sexually active lesbian teen.”
Sometimes I really hate people. Because this reduces this book to the smallest possible way of looking at it. There is one section - that is not even remotely explicit - where there is some sexual activity between Cam and Coley. It is two paragraphs long. To reduce this book - 470 pages - to those two paragraphs is just so grossly unfair. It is also just completely untrue.
This book is subversive, but not because it contains lesbian sex. It is subversive because it imbues Cameron Post with the exact same humanity, the same complexity, that John Green gave Hazel, and that Maggie Stiefvater gave Puck, and that Rainbow Rowell gave Eleanor, straight white girls all. And to speak of Cam Post like she is nothing more than her genitals and desires is despicable and it is dehumanizing.
The second section of the book has Cam at a Christian gay conversion therapy school, sent there by her family, after her relationship with Coley is discovered. Let me be perfectly clear here - Coley is a wretched, sanctimonious snake who deserves all the bad things to happen to her. Cam is sympathetic to her. I am not. If it were up to me, I would see her bitch slapped into next month, for her pathetic pretend victimization. This section is, at times, difficult to read, frustrating and sad.
I am one of those people who does not subscribe to the notion that being gay is a "choice." As a heterosexual, cis-gendered woman in a largely hetero-normative society, I cannot wrap my mind around why someone would chose an identity that so often makes them a target and a victim. emily danforth did not treat her characters - even the ones who are doing evil - in my opinion - as though they were evil. She is kind to them, she acknowledges that they are doing what they think is right, even if it is so desperately wrong.
The ending was abrupt, and honestly, a bit of a disappointment, mostly because I wasn't ready to say goodbye to Cameron Post. There is so much in this book, and I am doing such a crappy job of explaining it all. Let me just say this: Cameron Post is real. She is sarcastic, sometimes sad, sometimes drunk or high or crazy, she is damaged, she is gay, she is a swimmer, and an artist. But she isn't scary, and reading her story will not harm your teenagers, although it may cause them to think of gay people as human beings. There are, apparently, parents who are afraid of that - which says a helluva lot about those parents, and basically nothing at all about this book.