Friday, January 31, 2014

Reader Response: The Miseducation of Cameron Post Pt. 4

Continued reader response to The Miseducation of Cameron Post for my Teen Materials class.

** Spoilers everywhere! **

Chapters The-Rest-Of-The-Book

Well, wow. I finished reading Miseducation in bed late last night and immediately booted something out of my top ten favorite books to make room for it. My GoodReads review went as follows:
"While reading this book about a teen lesbian in VHS-era Montana, I kept wondering what I could possibly say to explain the experience. I can't just ask other people to read it because even if they did, it wouldn't capture what it was like for me. I had my answer about a minute after finishing, while I skimmed the Acknowledgements for mentions of people or places here in Lincoln, Nebraska:

This is the closest reading experience to my life experience that I've encountered.

I don't mean the specifics of Cameron Post's personality or what happens in this novel. I mean that for all the worlds I've visited in books of every genre, this is the only time I felt like I didn't leave my own world." [5 of 5 stars]
It's not unusual for me to start out with lots of passion for a book, hope it doesn't let me down...and then be let down. Not so with Miseducation, a feat made all the more impressive by its length. What kinds of elements are making me so glowy about it?
  • Gorgeous, sensual writing, especially when it comes to Montana's natural summer beauty and food. I noticed that one GoodReads reviewer put it on her "food-porn" shelf. Ha!
  • Not all adults are stupid or evil, a pet peeve of mine in YA lit.
  • The adults who are somewhat stupid or evil aren't just that. They're also wise and caring in their own ways. One of my favorite characters, Rick, would be a flat-out villain in a lesser book. Here, he's someone I would want as a friend despite huge disagreements. Ok, there's one woman, Lydia, who is smart and evil and almost completely out of place, except Cameron finally spots the human vulnerability making her that way. There are no monsters in this book, even though monstrous things happen. Emphasis on young adult.
  • ...and no saints. Scratch that. There is one saint, but I'm not revealing that here no matter how many times I warned about spoilers. In all other cases, the characters we're supposed to sympathize with are also shitty in their own ways.
  • The sex scenes are better handled than any sex scenes I've read in a book that lets the reader know what happened. There's just enough information to know what's going on, without the detail that turns me off in most erotica and steamy romances. I'm not the least bit prudish. I'm saying this is the superior aesthetic choice.
  • Culture of the late 80s/early 90s is spot on from my memory of neighboring North Dakota only a couple of years younger than Cameron was at that time. Miseducation has an effortless level of detail that would make historical fiction researchers swoon.
  • The dialogue is realistic, not John Green style. Usually, the most clever responses happen in Cameron's head...too late to use them.
  • Sexual orientation is not presented as a simple thing. The 'Q' in LGBTQ is strongly present.
  • Its overall narrative structure is satisfying. In the places where it's common, there's always something subverting the common trope. I went in knowing how it would start and what would happen in the middle, but I was very pleasantly surprised at the path to that middle, and where things went from there.
One more excerpt to show off the feel of the writing. From a sex scene enough out of context to avoid spoiling much until it happens:
"I stopped at the waistband and silver button on those tiny khaki shorts. I slipped just one finger beneath the band, not far, just against the place where her hipbone pushed out, and I felt her tremble, just barely, but still.
'You tell me when to stop,' I said.
She breathed in big, blew it out, and said, 'Not now.'
And her saying that, just that, not now, made my want of her flutter up inside me again and again like tiny explosions from Black Cat firecrackers, one after another: just her saying that."
A highly satisfying book.

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