In 2012, as gay marriage gains acceptance and legality in more and more states, as gay relationships are portrayed positively in national media, it's easy to forget that, in many parts of the country, coming to terms with one's sexual identity can be fraught with questions, fear, and even danger. The powerful "It Gets Better" campaign launched by gay and lesbian celebrities and activists is an important reminder that, for many young people, coming of age as a gay teenager is anything but a cause for celebration.
"THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST, with its small-town, late-20th-century setting, will remind teens and adult readers alike how far things have come --- and how far they have yet to go."
Nowhere is this more vividly considered than in Emily M. Danforth's debut novel, THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST. It's clear that Danforth intimately understands what it was like to grow up in Miles City, Montana, in the early ’90s --- she grew up there herself. Throughout her exhaustive (at nearly 500 pages) exploration of Cameron Post's teenage years, Danforth painstakingly includes details of place, music, films and people that place this novel in its specific time and place.
And it's a time and place that is not particularly friendly to Cameron, who begins to realize, at the age of 12, that her attraction to her best friend Irene goes beyond best-friendship. But the day after she's finally gotten up the courage to kiss Irene --- and to delight when Irene kisses her back --- Cameron's parents are killed in a car accident.
The guilt and fear that Cameron feels as a result of this horrific coincidence is a theme that carries throughout the book --- Cameron's tendency to blame herself for her parents' death is ever after tangled up with her confusion about her sexuality. When Cameron's socially conservative aunt Ruth moves to Montana to care for her niece, Cameron comes to realize that she won't find advice or support from her family, or from anyone else in Miles City, for that matter. Instead, she's left to her own devices, thanks in large part to films she watches in the privacy of her own bedroom.
That's not to say that Cameron doesn't find outlets for her sexual desire --- there's the politically active Lindsey, who hails from progressive Seattle, and Mona, a college woman and fellow lifeguard. And, finally, there's Coley, Cameron's first true love. Coley is beautiful and confident and, by all accounts, straight. But Cameron and Coley grow closer over the course of one memorable summer…before everything comes crashing down around them.
At times, THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST may seem like the product of an earlier time, when classics like ANNIE ON MY MIND defined the adolescent coming-out novel. But as the current political climate, not to mention the continued acceptance of homophobia in towns all over the country, shows, there's still a great need for books like this one. Cameron's eventual assignment to God's Promise, a re-education camp whose motto is "The opposite of the sin of homosexuality is not heterosexuality: it is holiness," offers plenty of opportunities for readers to consider the possibilities for reconciling religious faith with the acceptance of sexual diversity.
THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST, with its small-town, late-20th-century setting, will remind teens and adult readers alike how far things have come --- and how far they have yet to go.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on February 29, 2012