“Maybe I still haven’t become me. I don’t know how you tell for sure when you finally have.”
Author: Emily M. Danforth
Published Feb. 2012 by Balzer + Bray
Genre: YA contemporary
Date finished: July 25, 2018
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.
My thoughts (spoiler free)
I can think of only one word to describe this book: stunning.
Scratch that, two words: stunning and heart-wrenching.
This book had the feeling of the kinds of books I read when I was younger, and I had to keep reminding myself that it came out this decade and not thirty years ago. And somehow it made me nostalgic for 1990s rural Montana, a time and place I’ve never been. When I finished this book, I had to remind myself that I didn’t grow up in Miles City, and in fact I’ve never been there in my life.
I wish I could drown myself in this book.
It’s long for a YA contemporary (does it count as contemporary if it takes place in the 90s?), clocking in at almost 500 pages, but I flew through it. Even though the pace is kind of slow, I couldn’t bring myself to put it down because it dragged me so forcefully into this world. I wanted to savor every moment that I was reading it, but I also didn’t want to pull myself away.
Even though I read this pretty recently, the plot points are already getting a little fuzzy. I remember the major ones – Cameron’s parents die, Cameron has a few relationships with girls as she grows up, Cameron gets caught and sent to conversion camp – but what happens in between doesn’t stick out to me. That’s not really the point of this book though – I may not remember exactly what happened, but I remember how it made me feel.
This story is slow moving and meandering, which means it’s probably not for everyone. The main focus, though, is definitely on the characters.
Speaking of which…
Cameron Post, obviously the main character of this novel, is an incredible narrator. This is 100% her story. It’s all about her coming of age and dealing with the fact that she’s gay in a world that doesn’t accept that.
Throughout the course of the novel, I got so inside Cameron’s head and I felt everything that she felt so poignantly. She’s honest and blunt, terrified and defiant and broken and resilient all at once. I felt like I was going on a journey with her; her frustrations were mine, her triumphs made me celebrate. I was discovering the world through her eyes.
There are plenty of other characters in this novel, but none of them are as central as Cameron, so I won’t go into them. An interesting thing to note is that there’s no “villain.” Even the “bad guys” (Cameron’s aunt, the people at the camp) are given humanizing qualities. Cameron doesn’t hate them, so the reader doesn’t either. (If if I met them in real life I probably would, but this is Cameron’s story, so I didn’t.)
The writing blew me out of the water.
Every scene is so carefully assembled, getting into every detail of the moment so it felt like I was experiencing them alongside the characters. It never rushes. It focuses into each moment like it’s the most important moment in the world. Even if it’s just the feeling of air conditioning in the back of a movie theatre or the slide of cool water over bare skin or the static radiating from an old TV screen.
I felt everything alongside Cameron. I felt her grief at losing her parents, her nauseating relief that they’d never find out the truth, her years of fear and rebellion as she navigated her identity as a lesbian in conservative, rural Montana, her disorientation and anger at conversion camp.
There were moments that I’d forget how awful the situation was because Cameron tended to face trauma with humor, but then something would happen and it would hit me again how awful it was. This cycle of security and disillusionment was confusing and exhausting, just as I suspect it was supposed to be.
When I finally turned the last page of this book (metaphorically, since I was reading it on a Kindle), it felt like I had been in there for years. This book was so much more than I was expecting it to be. I had no idea that what appeared to be a simple coming of age story could be so affecting.
This story is heartbreaking yet hopeful, subtle yet astonishing. There’s a magic to it that I just can’t explain properly, so I guess you’ll all have to go out and discover for yourselves.
“I felt all the ways in which this world seemed so, so enormous – the height of the trees, the hush and tick of the forest, the shift of the sunlight and shadows – but also so, so removed.”