Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Complex Cowgirl Comes of Age: The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

The moment twelve year old Cameron Post learns that her parents have been killed in a car accident, her initial reaction is relief: relief that now they will never find out that only a few hours ago she was kissing her best friend Irene.   Somehow the two seemingly unconnected events become intertwined as they mark the simultaneous moment when everything in Cameron's life shifts forever.  Her beloved parents are dead and her old fashioned grandmother & her Christian evangelical aunt become her guardians.  And while Cameron & Irene's friendship falls apart, Cameron can't forget how right it felt to be kissing a girl.  A few year later and Cam has survived her grief and started to quietly figure out the girl she's becoming when the arrival of beautiful cowgirl Coley Taylor throws her tenuously balanced world out of whack.

 After reading a variety of reviews, including an extremely positive one by great YA lit author and blogger Malinda Lo, I was highly curious and eager to read this coming of age novel from debut author Emily M. Danforth.  Happily, my high expectations were far from disappointed.  Miseducation is a gorgeous, heartbreaking, and hopeful story about girl stumbling her way through adolescence and into the brave new world of adulthood.  Every piece of Cameron's life growing up in Miles City, Minnesota during late 1980s and early 1990s comes to life through Danforth's evocative and detailed prose.  From the first page, the reader is fully immersed in the sounds, smells, images, and emotions buzzing through Cam's external and internal worlds.  Danforth excels at capturing moments and moods; the whole novel evokes the experience of looking through a series of beautiful, spare photographs--sepia toned with slightly curled up edges.

Cam is a wonderfully developed character with fresh and unique voice.  She is perceptive, sarcastic, defensive, sensitive, and passionate;  I loved her from the novel's opening chapter and found myself completely absorbed in her story, cheering for her fiercely the whole time.  The supporting cast of characters are all equally well crafted but it's Cam's story through and through.

While the Miseducation has been marketed as a young adult novel, it reads more like adult fiction with a highly authentic adolescent protagonist and narrator.  This fact can be viewed as both an advantage and a disadvantage.  The novel might be more challenging to promote to a mass audience of teen readers or it might instead simply have a great deal of crossover appeal to adult audiences.  However, I feel sure that for the right readers--both teens and adults--Miseducation's complex characters, rich story, and emotional depth will resonate powerfully.


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