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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

The Miseducation of Cameron Post

cameron post 197x300 The Miseducation of Cameron PostThe Miseducation of Cameron Post, Emily M. Danforth
Balzer + Bray, February 2012
Reviewed from ARC

There’s a lot to discuss here. A lot of win and a lot of flaw, really.

Let’s start with win, which is the writing.

The writing is mature, sophisticated, free of unnecessary embellishments. There are marks of the author’s MFA; there is a style of writing that always seems to have the fingerprints of advanced writing coursework and workshops all over it. Words that fall like pebbles, and ripple outward, although you can’t always tell why. Chapters that read like short stories, the kind you might find in The New Yorker. Language that is deceptively simple. MFA writing.

It can go terribly wrong; in this case, it goes mostly right. It’s assured writing,* and while it’s hard to see where it’s heading (the hallmark of the standard issue literary short story, where the meaning is in what is unsaid, it’s a bit odd in a novel but not necessarily bad), it’s a journey you can settle into.

(Although it’s not fast. This might be the slowest book I’ve read this year, and it’s long. You need to just immerse yourself in Cam’s life, and don’t expect any major action. Even when there is action, it was delivered in a way that slows it down, full of the lazy heat of those Montana summers when so much of this takes place).

The sense of place, conveyed through that graceful prose, is likewise excellent. Note, however, that I am a born and bred New Yorker, and have only spent six years of my life more than 25 miles from midtown Manhattan. So I believe this Montana, but someone else — say, from Montana — might not: Accuracy once again in the eye of the reader, rather than an objective quality.

By and large, Cam’s voice rings true, too. There are some flashes that make it clear that she’s writing this from the future, which I think weaken the voice overall; the reminder that this was then and the now is different skips attention forward in a way that doesn’t entirely work, both because no details of that future are forthcoming and also because the pacing is otherwise moment to moment.

All of that adds up to something I can absolutely understand as a bit of a critical darling (four stars plus some love in terms of buzz and comments on posts earlier in the year around here). It’s not a heart book for me, but it’s about the writing, not the personal love when it comes to determining what will take the crown. And the writing offers a lot to appreciate.

But.

There’s always a but, isn’t there?

In this case, it’s structure.

(I’m beginning to think that structure is the thing in realistic fiction that really eats at me. In speculative fiction, I tend to get really hung up on world building. In realistic fiction, especially the more literary books, structural issues really bother me. My irritation is exacerbated in this case precisely because there is so much to champion here.)

I think there are two stories here. For the first two thirds (helpfully sectioned and titled as Part 1 and Part 2), there was one story, a slow coming of age, a grappling with first loves. You could have called the section by the names of the girls Cam falls for. Part 1: Irene; Part 2: Coley; Lindsay and Mona could have been interstitials almost. It’s very neatly structured; each section connects to the next with the girl who isn’t the love but is accessible and speaks to a wider world of out, proud life; each section ends with an event that changes everything.

And then there’s part 3, Camp Promise. And that’s a different story, one with major pacing issues within itself and within the context of the book. Camp Promise as a section has flaws: random moments of didactic teaching, like when Adam talks about being two spirited and suddenly he sounds a bit like an encyclopedia entry for half a page. Or the moment when Cam suddenly speaks from the future (she mentions “since leaving Promise”). And then there are the diagrams of the icebergs Rick has the kids do. Instead of this being a book about Cameron Post, it’s a book about Miseducation, and the focus shifts. The pacing is different too, especially when they plan their escape.

And then, presto chango, the very ending is suddenly about Cam as a person and her grief about her parents, which has been a leitmotif throughout but not actually all that central as I read it, and especially not in section 3 except inasmuch as Rick and Lydia want that to be the reason Cam likes girls. So ending there makes it seem as if that’s what it was all about, almost as if Rick and Lydia were on to something. All of this struck me as immensely problematic.

And speaking of things that are problematic: The early 90s setting strikes me as an odd choice. It was weird for me as a reader because Cameron is only a few years younger than me and so I was distracted by moments of recognizing my own adolescence. The librarian and critic in me wonders about the setting, timewise (placewise, as mentioned above, I thought it was really good, although what I know about Montana could fit on a notecard. One side. 3×5.). There were so many specific details of the time — the movies Cam watches (I also remember The Hunger and how it was a bit of an eye opener, although for me it was David Bowie and vampires that were the exciting elements), the mixes Lindsay makes for her, even the descriptions of clothing at times. But I’m not sure what that specific time offers, aside from being a time when a re-education facility might have been new. And since Camp Promise is the aspect of the novel I see as the most troubling when it comes to pushing this forward as a Pyrite nomination, that doesn’t justify the setting for me.

So, yeah, I’m a little mixed in my response. If I were on the RealCommittee, I wouldn’t nominate this. But I’m pretty sure someone would, making this ripe for a serious comment convo. Over to you.

*There were typos, though, which I am assuming is an ARC thing, like Rick instead of Ray (p. 338), and which I am also assuming will be corrected in final edits. And then there were a few maybe typos, like “if I’d not made,” (p. 189) which isn’t consistent with Cameron’s usual voice. I’m hoping those random moments that jolted me out with their grammatical oddities also get edited in the final pass — there are maybe four such instances I noted throughout, and each time I found myself rereading the sentence, thinking I’d missed a word or something. If Miseducation makes it to our final 10, I’ll need to reread from the final copy; typos can knock a book right out, and small jolts to the reader’s suspension of disbelief because of a faltering voice can be death knells. Hopefully they won’t have made it to the final copy and whether this places can be rooted in more substantive issues.
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About Karyn Silverman

Karyn Silverman is the High School Librarian and Educational Technology Department Chair at LREI, Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School (say that ten times fast!). Karyn has served on YALSA’s Quick Picks and Best Books committees and was a member of the 2009 Printz committee. She has reviewed for Kirkus and School Library Journal. She has a lot of opinions about almost everything (except current events, because she’s too busy reading YA literature to follow the news). Said opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, LREI, YALSA or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @InfoWitch or e-mail her at karynsilverman at gmail dot com.

Comments

  1. Christopher says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one with mixed feelings about this particular title. While it does have quality writing throughout, the pacing was a real problem for me. Plus, this book seemed like an adult book published as YA.

    • Karyn Silverman says:

      @Christopher, so agree about the adult aspect, but it’s not technically a Printz disqualification. I do wonder about teen appeal, even though it’s really outside our scope. Anyone have reader feedback?

  2. Jane says:

    I agree about the strong sense of place… I grew up in the Midwest in the 90s and there were so many details in this book that I remembered it seemed like it was written just for me. As far as the time in which the book was set–it seems to me like a story that could only seem really authentic in the 90s? With the details from what Lindsay was experiencing compared to Cameron’s experience, and the inclusion of Camp Promise… I just think it wouldn’t work out so well as something set in modern time or any further in the past.
    And as much as I loved the setting and all of the details that were just perfect, the structure bothered me, and even confused me from time to time too.

  3. J Curry says:

    I have another question about eligibility. Since this was originally published as a doctoral dissertation by the University of Nebraska in 2011, would it still be considered eligible for Printz?

  4. Karyn Silverman says:

    @J Curry: I had no idea! That might affect eligibility. I’ll see if it’s possible to get any info on that possibility, but if this is not the “first US publication,” which I believe is the language, then presumably it’s out of the running. If only I’d known that before reading all the many hundreds of pages. Do you have a citation for the 2011 publication?

  5. Blythe says:

    Just a note about the setting: I recently heard the author read and there were many in attendance who are residents of Miles City, the town where fictional Cam lived. They had nothing but praise for the setting.
    emily danforth calls this her “coming of age novel,” which makes sense. A lot of YA novels are coming of age novels, but not all coming of age novels are YA. The decision to pub. as YA wasn’t the author’s. She doesn’t disagree with the marketing decision. In some ways, this just emphasizes the blurry boundaries of YA.

  6. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Oh, now the type of rule stuff I truly like digging into. If a version of CAMERON POST was done, how much changes would have had to be made for this to be considered “new”? Is a published dissertation for purposes of completing coursework the same as publishing something for commercial sales? As we see “fanfic to published work” deals being made, this area becomes broader — if it’s first an online pubbed fanfic, does that count as first pub for purposes of say Printz and Morris? (I think the issue came up with FAIRYLAND and the Newbery last year, at least in blog discussions).

  7. Hannahlily says:

    I just can’t finish this novel! The writing is gorgeous, but that pacing is killing me. I’ve been reading it since May and can’t get more than a few pages read at a time. I refuse to give up, though, because I have heard utterly sensational things.

  8. TeenReader says:

    I LOVED this book, but I think that my reactions was so personal that it’s hard to separate that from its Printz-liness. That being said, I never was bothered by the pacing until the end. I enjoyed the slow burn, but that quick, abrupt ending was an odd fit. The writing was beautiful, however, and I would definitely like to see it get recognized.

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