Monday, August 7, 2017

YA Review: The Miseducation of Cameron Post

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

Published: February 7th, 2012 by Balzer + Bray
Genre: Modern Historical YA
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 470 plus acknowledgements.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary from goodreads: When Cameron Post’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief they’ll never know that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl.

But that relief doesn’t last, and Cam is soon forced to move in with her conservative aunt Ruth and her well-intentioned but hopelessly old-fashioned grandmother. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and leaving well enough alone (as her grandmother might say), and Cam becomes an expert at both.

Then Coley Taylor moves to town. Beautiful, pickup-driving Coley is a perfect cowgirl with the perfect boyfriend to match. She and Cam forge an unexpected and intense friendship — one that seems to leave room for something more to emerge. But just as that starts to seem like a real possibility, ultrareligious Aunt Ruth takes drastic action to ‘fix’ her niece, bringing Cam face-to-face with the cost of denying her true self — even if she’s not exactly sure who that is.

Review: The summary of this almost gives the wrong idea of what the book is going to be like. Or, maybe not wrong, but not a detailed enough idea. I'm actually quite surprised by this. It's a very complex book, and I went into it more expecting something kind of cute and maybe a little fluffy, and this really is not that. We'll talk more about that later.

Now, I read mostly YA, so I'm not one of those people who are like "this is such a good book I'm surprised it's YA" (we all know those people, right?) but this is a book where I think it easily could have been published as an adult novel just as easily as a YA. And it's not a matter of subject matter or anything, but the voice and tone of the book feel, to me, at least, more like an adult book. I would personally have called this an adult book with crossover potentional if anyone had asked me. I'm not even sure how to describe it, really, but there's something about this where it's not that I think it's miscategorized or people label it wrong or anything (like certain adult books with young protagonists I could mention), but... maybe it's just a book that could go either adult or YA.

It was something I found very interesting while reading, but I definitely enjoyed it. It's different from most of the YA I read.

Plot Talk: There's a lot of plot in this book! The summary gives you a basic idea, but it doesn't give you as much of the depth it goes into and how much of the books actually happens after the summary ends. It's a deep, complex plot that and the book honestly surprised me with how different is was from what I expected. I'll bring up one of the plot elements later, as it's a bit of a spoiler, in the pg-13 section. I had things I was surprised by plot-wise, but I think I'll leave those for you to discover.

One thing I didn't know going in was this is set in between 1989 and 1993, which you guys know is normally a pet peeve of mine. It works really well in this, though. I think there is a whole lot of difference between a queer person's 90s, and a cis allo het's person's 90s, and the fact that the protagonist is queer means there's the question of "why is this set in the 90s" is answered and the reason isn't just "nostalgia". It also says it on page when it's set instead of just leaving it vague.

Characters: Danforth has a real knack for characters that are deep and complex. There are people in the book who do things that are pretty awful, and others who condone it, and the book doesn't erase that people can treat you badly or do things that hurt you while still meaning well, and that the hurt doesn't mean you don't still love them or care about them. I thought Cameron's relationship with her grandmother was especially well done.

I really liked Cameron in general, too. Is it a surprise? She's just the kind of character I enjoy, cranky and queer and prickly and all mushy and soft inside where it matters. The grief she deals with in the book is so poignant and really heartfelt, too.

I also think the parts set in Montana are so accurately small town. It's a combination of character and really great description that sets the scenes there brillantly. And I liked that even in a small town, Cameron wasn't the queer unicorn - there's a lot of queer people in this book. There's also, in the last third, a really prominent character with prosthetic leg and a Native American character, so that is neat.

PG-13 stuff: There's things to talk about here. Spoilers, obviously. Trigger warnings include drug use, underage drinking, a fair bit of sex, a lot of cursing (there's one particular f-bomb that I think was probably the best used f-bomb I've ever read in a book), the obvious slurs you'd expect because it's set in the 90s, and the whole thing where Cameron is violently outed and sent away to a conversion school. That's some heavy stuff.

Once there, most of the stuff that happens isn't violent, but it is (and this is stated in the book) emotionally abusive. The book also points out that it's a sneaky kind of emotional abuse - there's no one screaming profanity at them or anything like that, but the whole point of the school is to make them hate themselves into not being queer anymore. I think it's important to be aware of this going in. The last third or the book is set in the school, and it doesn't shy away from that.

Major self harm and some gore trigger warning - a boy who is in the school hurts himself badly and it's described in some detail. It's meant to show how horrifying the school is and the whole idea of conversion therapy, and to point out that even though the people running it think they're doing the right thing, they're wrong, but it is upsetting. I had to stop reading for a minute, honestly. But for the record, no one dies in this book besides Cameron's parents.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: A little bit of fatphobia comes up now and then and I wasn't so down with that. A tiny bit of girl hate now and then, and some slut shaming, but it's not awful about it.

One of Cameron's friends at the school, Adam, is Native as I said earlier and two-spirit (named in the book as "two souls person"). I found two things talking about it, one a blog post from Debbie Reese and one an article from the journal Bookbird by Robert Bittner. They pretty much have drastically different stances. Because of Debbie's especially, though, I would not personally recommend this as rep in that area, and prefer to defer to those articles instead of stating my personal opinion.

(My personal opinion was pretty much that I thought it was neat to see an underrepresented identity in a book, but I wasn't the right person to decide if it was good rep, for the record. So *points* go read those articles.)

Although one thing I will say is - as far as I know, neither of those people are two-spirit themselves (please correct me if I'm wrong!). I looked for reviews from two-spirit reviewers and I couldn't find anything. And I really wish I could. I feel like that would be the most imporant POV and I don't want to erase those voices.

Cover comments: I really like this cover. I think it's really cute. But I think that's part of the stuff that made me think this was going to be more "cute Montana queer romance" than it was.

Conclusion: I'm not going to take the two-spirit rep into consideration, negatively or positively, because I don't think that's even remotely my place. On that matter, see the things I linked to. My overall feelings on the rest of the book, though, are quite positive. I'd read two books I really didn't like before this, and I was really glad this wasn't another book not to like, lol. It's a really interesting book with a unique voice, and I like what it had to say on how queerness and sexuality isn't always black and white or easy to understand even if it's yourself.

And while I'm all the way here for contemporary queer books where things are happy and nice (dear gosh we need that more), this reminds me a bit of Accidents of Nature where the book being set in a time period that isn't modern day is for a reason. Talking about this kind of history is important, in my opinion, and the experience of being queer in the 90s is very different from being queer today.

It's getting late and I'm getting rambly, but my grand concluding thoughts are... I really liked this. I'm not one hundred percent settled on a rating, but I think four out of five roses is what I'm going to land on.



Other notes:

- I actually managed to get a review of a queer book post during QSR. Go me! I wasn't expecting myself to.

- It's actually my mom's birthday today, lol.

That's it!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

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