This is not a fluffy contemporary romance. It is a beautiful coming-of-age story about discovering yourself and having the courage to be that person, no matter what.
Cameron Post is 12 years old, and in bed kissing her best friend when she gets word that her parents have been killed in a car crash. Although heartbroken and devastated, she is also relieved that they will never find out she’d been kissing a girl.
Living in any small town can be challenge enough for a typical teenager. But when Cam’s grandmother and aunt Ruth (a born-again Christian) move in to care for her, her life changes drastically. The freedom she felt as a child gives way to a cage made from her own guilt and her guardians’ narrow views.
Then in junior year of high school, Coley Taylor arrives. She is stunningly beautiful, smart, funny. And Cam falls in love with her. Coley likes boys. But she also likes Cam. And she is not prepared for the conflict that faces her.
Cameron is lovely. She is smart and charming and athletic and foul-mouthed and a thief. She smokes dope and drinks and is fiercely loyal to her friends. She is complicated and straight forward and sure of her feelings, but still hides them, acknowledging the uphill climb she faces in her conservative town. She grows throughout the story, from a nervous, curious, 12-year-old to a self-conscious then self-assured then devastated 16-year-old. I absolutely love her.
And what I love the most is her absolute authenticity. Gay or straight, teens struggle with their identities throughout those confusing and difficult years. Even with the most supportive parents and friends, figuring out who you are can be a trial for the most confident teen. Cameron’s loneliness and confusion during prom as she watches Coley dancing with her boyfriend are feelings every teen has experienced. She had me in tears more than once.
The novel deals with sexual encounters, drugs, and many other mature themes. While the graphic details are, for the most part, left out, the themes are handled with honesty and frankness, not circumvented or hidden behind euphemisms.
The secondary characters in the story are just as authentic as Cam. Irene, who grows apart from Cam, and never really understands the guilt either of them feels. Jamie, Cam’s best friend who understands her more than she wants him to, who has her back. Lindsey, the out-and-proud young lesbian who becomes a soulmate. Coley, who struggles with her feelings. Ruth and Grandma, who can only trust that God will “fix” her.
The teens at Promise, trying to change, living with the knowledge that everyone they love feels that they are broken and terrible human beings, that something is wrong with them. The struggle between faith and reality is heart wrenching to witness at times. But two residents, Jane and Adam, become confidants and partners-in-crime and Cam slowly learns to release her guilt and sadness.
The story is well paced, for the most part. There are a few places where it slows down, and takes time to get moving again, but that is a minor quibble for an otherwise excellent read.
Emily Danforth’s debut novel sneaks up on you. Her lovely writing and universal message hit you at the most unexpected times. It is appropriate for the mature YA reader.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post was published February 7th, 2012 by Balzer + Bray.