The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

themiseducationofcameronpostReading is kind of slow these days and I hope you’re all more successful on the reading front than I am. But I muddled through one and I think it is worth a shot (every book that I finish when I’m not really in the mood for reading is certainly worth a shot).

It’s aboout (as the title suggests) Cameron Post, a young girl who loses her parents in a car accident. Now an orphan, she is living with her grandma and aunt Ruth in the middle of nowhere, Montana. Figuring out that she is gay isn’t as much of an issue as the attitude of the people around her toward homosexuality and it comes as no surprise that once Cameron is ‘found out,’ she ends up in a place to end all same-sex tendencies, a religious compound called ‘Promise.’ But the promise of ‘healing’ is hard to fullfill, especially when one is as unwilling to be healed as Cameron and her new friends are.

Emily Danforth did a great job conveying life in the middle of Montana where she herself grew up. The book is also a vivid picture of the possibilities of youth, the ways one finds to escape from the doctrines of the church and religious upbringing. Cameron is rebellious enough to make us believe that escape is possible because there is no doubt that it is necessary. It’s sometimes a little discouraging, though, to see a young person struggle against unbeatable odds – especially since it plays during the nineties and one would expect a more understanding environment all around.

This book is one of those rare occasions where one would have sat through a whole life-story without ever getting bored. Danforth’s prowess as story teller are impressive but are seemingly cut short by the ending. While I liked reading the story as such, the ending left me dissatisfied. I’m not saying that it doesn’t make any sense but it certainly felt abrupt compared to the way she builds the story. While Cameron finally gains some closure, I (as a reader) felt left with some story yet untold. It is possible that this is my own fault, that I did not prepare myself enough for an ending that came too soon for me. I like to dwell in a good story and sometimes it’s simply too hard to reenter reality after a good read.

On the whole, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a well-written coming-of-age and coming-out novel. It’s believable, vivid and will throw you back into a time in your own life when you broke some rules… a time when rules were meant to be broken.

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Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden

annieonmymindI must say that I read the book as if it was a modern book – because I failed to realize that the copyright date in the front was for the interview in the back of the book and not for the book itself. I read it as if it had been published in 2007, not 1982 – and from that point of view it struck me as old-fashioned, but still relevant.

The story is about Liza who falls in love with another girl, Annie – and Annie with her. They struggle through their awakening feelings of love and sexuality but as if that wasn’t hard enough to do, they are faced with the humiliation of a public outing and a scandal that has two of Liza’s teachers fired. Still, love prevails as Liza reminisces the events that have led her to not talking to Annie for half a year.

The way the story is build is certainly unusual: Liza is looking back at the previous year, trying to tell Annie how she’d felt about things, why she couldn’t talk to her for the past half year. She tells the story chronologically from a point in the present which isn’t years after, she’s not old yet, her rememberances are not tainted by wisdom, experience or age – or whatever else makes us think we had been foolish when we were young. Liza is still young and unsure, she is still struggling and this makes the novel rather unique. Another thing I found in this novel, something I have never before read, is that Liza isn’t always sure of what exactly had been said. Yes, she gives the reader the notion of what had been said but she is unsure – this is actually very compelling because who always remembers something just the way it had been said or done? I like it, the style of Garden’s writing, and am eager to find out if this is something she simply does or just did in Annie on My Mind.

It can be said that Annie on My Mind is outdated – but the same argument can be made about every other book that had seen 25 years since publishing, or even ten or less. What is compelling about Annie on My Mind – and is something that is never outdated – is the love story. In this case, it is a love story between two young girls and I would say apart from the old-fashioned views of others onto that love, it is a story that could be told exactly like this today. Except today they would text and talk on their cell phones.

Another thing I liked about the story is that it is about LIza’s personal outing more than her outing to other people. Yes, she lies about it when asked by her mother but how could one be expected to tell other people the truth when one hasn’t even come out to one’s self. And that happens later, in her present from which she tells the story. And it is still relevant. What straight people often fail to realize in their insistence of homosexual people being honest with them is that you have to be honest with yourself first. If you haven’t reconciled with the feeling of being gay or the label itself, you cannot be expected to explain anything to others. I like how Garden shows this, how she gives Liza time to come to terms – even if that means that she is cruel toward her lover, or lies to her mother.

I think Annie on My Mind is still an important book. It shows how things were in the past – and how little or how much has changed since -, it tells a meaningful love story about two adolescent girls, and it does so in a beautiful prose that on top of it is stylistically interesting. So, if you find the time go treat yourself to this lovely tale.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

This is a truly wonderful book – and wonderfully short as well. It tells the story of a young girl, Jeanette, – if you want to know if this novel is autobiographical, you only have to read the introduction and Winterson will tell you – who lives her life in the shadow of her overbearing, pious mother. I am not quite sure of what religion she is but she is devout and means her daughter to be a missionary. Unluckily for her, Jeanette finds girls much more interesting than the Heathen and it is discovered that she is a lesbian. This is too much truth for the religious community and things go awry among bits and pieces of story-telling and life happening.

This is how I would describe the book but it is already tinged with interpretation. Because there is little else you can do to understand the book as such. Winterson is a gifted story-teller, her prose is clear and entertaining, but it cannot be said to be simple. I consider this an advantage, as Winterson has a lot to tell and it does not do to put it simply.

I must admit, though, that it may be easily forgotten as this was actually a re-read. And I mainly read it again because I did not remember any of it. This rarely happens with me, I usually remember at least some of the plot when I re-read something. But maybe this is because there is not much plot, it is mostly in the characters which I like a lot. But even as I write this, it all starts to become fuzzy at the edges. Maybe this is its great strength: that it will be new every time you read it.

I am not sure if I make myself clear on this. It is a highly enjoyable read but it is also difficult to write about. It is actually best to read it than read some half-baked review that may only confuse you and keep you from the experience that is Winterson. So, I will keep it short and just say: read and enjoy.