This week has involved some really great books. Here are my reviews:
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth
I was sent this copy by the lovely people over at Penguin in exchange for an honest review (and possibly a Q and A with the author in the next couple of months, which I am super excited for!)
The Miseducation of Cameron Post tells the story of young Cameron coming to terms with her sexuality after the death of her parents. Cameron blames herself for this because she was kissing her friend Irene at the moment they died: she sees their death as her punishment for the “sin” of being attracted to others.
Some of these scenes are truly heart-wrenching (and I say this as a person known for having a swinging-brick in place of a heart). Emily’s writing is so powerful and evocative that you can’t help feeling Cameron’s feelings; there were several times I had to put down the book to absorb them before I could move on with the story. The part where Irene’s parents discover that Cameron’s parents are dead slayed me.
One of Cameron’s emotions is relief. Relief that her parents will never find out she was kissing a girl. This idea of Cameron’s sexuality as a sin is a big part of the book,many of those around her take a strict view that homosexuality is a sin, or that it doesn’t exist at all (“don’t make your sin special”). At times this makes for very uncomfortable reading, and it led me to feel great sadness for Cameron and her situation. There is always the underlying question of how her parents would have reacted to this had they been alive.
Cameron is being raised by her aunt Ruth, and the two have a contentious relationship. It is her Aunt Ruth’s beliefs that lead to Cameron being sent to a “de-gaying camp”. At times, it’s very hard to like or empathise with Ruth and her position, but I do think that she believes she has Cameron’s best interests at heart. She also has her own difficulties that we are given a fleeting insight into: giving up her life to move and care for Cameron and her neurofibromatosis, which give another dimension to her character.
There are other ambiguous characters in the novel: Jamie, who wants to be Cameron’s friend but has romantic feelings towards her and is somewhat cruel when he discovers her sexuality, but still tries to be her friend and Coley who is clearly feeling torn about her own feelings, but treats Cameron appallingly. The camp shows the horrific effects that homophobia and “de-gaying” camps can have on those who have not accepted who they are, and these characters are starkly contrasted with those who are comfortable with their sexuality, and provide Cameron with a much needed sense of family and home.
The ending is tentatively hopeful, but ultimately unresolved and I hope to learn more about the author’s reasons for this. I would definitely recommend this book to everyone. It is such an important story and one that gives the reader much to think about.
Truly Madly Awkward by Beth Garrod
I picked up this one as part of the #nspBookClub, so my thanks to the lovely Zoe for introducing me to a book I might not otherwise have picked up.
Truly Madly Awkward is the second in a series, but it really isn’t necessary to have read the first to enjoy this one (I haven’t). This is a funny, and at times hilarious story: I gave myself a stitch laughing at the dog agility date (I’m still sniggering about it writing this).
Bella is an interesting character: she can be quite self-absorbed and annoying at times (her constant need to make acronyms of things irritated me at times), but she is also a caring sibling, daughter and friend. The story of trying to win a band competition gives us insight into the pressures Bella feels and her fear of public speaking which adds another dimension to her character. I loved how much she cared for her friendships and how she worked so hard to try to rectify her mistakes.
There are a lot of cringeworthy situations in her quest to attract Adam’s attention (I identified with many of these awkward moments from my own teenage years, which added some unexpected nostalgia). I enjoyed seeing Adam and Bella develop over the story and how their relationship was very much a will-they, won’t-they story until the end.
This isn’t a story I would have picked up if not for the book club, but I enjoyed it. If you enjoyed Georgia Nicholson books or novels like Noah Can’t Even, then I think you would enjoy this.
The Things We Learn When We’re Dead by Charlie Laidlaw
The author sent me this copy in exchange for an honest review, and I was really touched that the book came signed and with an adorable bookmark matching the front cover. I love a good bookmark.
The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is pitched as a retelling of The Wizard of Oz for adults with hint of Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (which I’m ashamed to say I’ve never read). There are references throughout to The Wizard of Oz: a chapter titled tin-man, reference to yellow brick dust, a wizard, and less obviously, Leo (lion) and a search for a heart. The ending also seems a homage to this text with Lorna having to consider what is home and the reader being left to decide what really happened.
The concept of the story is bizzarre and wonderful. After stepping out in front of a car, Lorna finds herself in HVN: it’s heaven, but not as we know it. Heaven is a stranded spaceship, her nurse looks like Sean Connery and God is an ageing hippy who refuses to tell her anything until her memories have transitioned. She has been chosen – but for what purpose? I don’t think I have ever read anything quite like it.
Wanting to find out what purpose God has for Lorna, and what happened to her on Earth that she is so worried about keeps us turning the pages. As time passes, we learn more of Lorna’s past when her memories resurface. Her story is told chronologically and we discover what has led Lorna to where she is.
Heaven is an unusual place where they try to keep a semblance of life, but as time goes on Lorna realises that not everything is how it appears. We learn a lot about Lorna as she explores the spaceship: she is reluctant to part with herself in any way and is true to the morals she had on earth.
Lorna is a fascinating character. I loved seeing how she developed as we learned more about her. I enjoyed reading the back stories of her romantic relationships and her friendship with Susie, as well as the characters aboard HVN (some of whom bear resemblance to people Lorna knows from Earth).
This was a wonderful novel and one I know I will want to re-read in future.
What’s been on your reading list this week? Do you fancy picking up any of my reads?