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The Miseducation of Cameron Post | Emily M. Danforth | Review

The night Cameron Post's parents died, her first emotion was relief. Relief that they would never know that hours earlier, she'd been kissing a girl.

Told in three parts, Cameron Post's story begins when she is twelve years old, with a kiss shared between her and her best friend, Irene, and, later, with the news that her parents have both died. Cameron's aunt Ruth, a devout born-again Christian, and her grandma both move in to take care of Cameron, Irene moves away to boarding school, and Cameron silently wonders if maybe her kiss with Irene is the reason her parents are dead.

The next part sees Cameron a few years older, with new friends, and still exploring her identity, this time with the complication of a new best friend, Coley, who Cameron falls in love with almost immediately, and who already has a boyfriend. Things only get more complicated for Cameron and when her aunt eventually finds out the secret Cameron has been keeping from her, we arrive at the next part of the Cameron's story: God's Promise, a Christian school that promises to 'correct' Cameron's 'sinful desires'.

Danforth's descriptions of Miles City, where Cameron lives, and the rural surrounding areas, in the early 1990s when this book takes place, manage to paint a picture of an area that is at once breath-takingly beautiful and quietly suffocating. Cameron's summers are filled with heat, movies, lake swimming, and romances that are forbidden in the most literal sense of the word, promise always just around the corner. Thanks to the vivid descriptions of Cameron's world and the place her feelings have in that world, Cameron's story feels incredibly real, and there is a wistful beauty to it too, which makes the difficult parts all the more upsetting to read. Cameron's story is one worth telling, and definitely worth reading, but it is not an easy one to read by any stretch of the imagination.

The beauty of the wide open lakes, fields, and mountains that surround Cameron's life juxtapose painfully with the closed in feeling that follows Cameron around, especially when she finds herself at God's Promise, the Christian school that promises to bring Cameron and her fellow disciples closer to God and further from their 'unnatural desires'. This novel is full of juxtapositions like this, including the members of God's Promise itself, the teachers who truly believe that they're helping these teenagers, even in the painful face of the damage they're causing. One of the subtle protests of this novel is that it does not demonise these people, only shows the harm they do in what they believe is their duty, quietly condemning them through their own words and actions.

This isn't a short story, quick or easy to read. It's a story that takes its time, perhaps a little bit too much to build up Cameron's story. Over half of the novel seems to lead up to Cameron's time at God's Promise, and the friends she makes there, and then we spend so little time examining this place, so little time with these new friends, before an ending that feels altogether abrupt and a little unsatisfying. Characters who seemed so important in Cameron's life before are never heard from again, story lines are abandoned untied, but perhaps that is the point. Cameron has not finished growing or discovering herself at the end of this novel, and so her story doesn't end, it just stops. It's an ending that definitely leaves the reader wanting more, from a story that sorely needs to be told.

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