Ode to Miles City

Alex Mitchell Book Reviewer
Tuesday, July 28, 2020
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The 2012 novel “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” feels as much an ode to Miles City as it is a coming of age for its teenage protagonist in early ‘90s Miles City. To almost every aspect of the World Famous Bucking Horse Sale to the wide open range of the surrounding area to the Eastern Montana Fair to even Pacos (are those still around?), the author Emily M. Danforth creates a comprehensive telling of what Miles City was like for its female protagonist Cameron Post through prose that is incredibly immersive. It helps when you lived in Miles City, which Danforth was, yet somehow even the writing about the prevalence of swimmer’s itch at The Natural Oasis had a warmth of childhood nostalgia that Miles City holds for so many people.

The prose creates a setting for what will read more like an autobiography for roughly 500 pages. Because of that, it makes the story incredibly realistic and gripping. That story being the coming of age for Cameron Post, who in the beginning of the novel experiences two things: she kisses a girl and hours later she becomes an orphan after her parents die in a car crash. From there the main conflict that persists throughout the book arises, Cameron has to deal with a form of guilt that her kissing a girl was responsible for such a tragedy, and that there is something wrong with her because of that. And much like any coming of age novel, it’s relatable that it’s the same for any person approaching adulthood, they have to learn to accept and embrace who they are, those things that might make them different. In this case, on homosexuality in ‘90s Miles City, the question explored is: Can those feelings be legitimately denied?

With that question, Danforth explores it in a refreshingly balanced way. I’ve read more than enough novels where you know the author has an agenda or a message they really want to push throughout, and the plot conforms around it. With those, I’m always left with a feeling of something akin to disgust after reading them, that the author views me as nothing but a mindless reader who will accept uncritically whatever is their platform. It’s tiresome. Thankfully, Danforth focuses on crafting a story first. It’s a story that thanks to the setting and immersive writing throughout, would still be well-written and wellstructured even if Cameron wasn’t gay and it was just a novel about someone’s childhood in Miles City.

When I mentioned that this book might be controversial last week as a preview of sorts to it, I essentially was referring to its content on sexuality. For a short time, the book was banned in a school district in Rhode Island. Their reasoning was the excessive use of a curse word, yet as no other books were banned with that rationale, it was pretty much assumed that the real reasoning was its content on sexuality. And to be frank, while this is one of the few books that I’ve actually seen fellows students my age reading while I was in high school, it almost felt like it would be more appropriate for adults in some areas. It’s still a great read for teens who are finding their own identity, but it’s stillcomplex enough to be enjoyed by adults. And yeah, there are a lot more mature elements to this book besides just the sexual content.

For instance, about a hundred pages into the novel, it seems like you can’t go a single chapter without a joint, cigarette or some sort of alcohol. If anyone thinks this novel puts Miles City in a bad light, they might be right in the sense that almost every high school student seems to be one part student, one part stoner, and the other part alcoholic at the high school. Maybe it’s a matter of perspective, but again, the vivid detail put into the world, while it certainly slows the pacing of the novel, rarely detracts from it, only making it all more real.

Before I review any book, I try to get an idea of other people’s thoughts on it. The general reception toward this was less on the book itself and more on the idea of a review itself. Essentially: “Are you sure you want to review that?” Referring to the assumed book’s portrayal that Miles City is some one-dimensional, small-minded town in the novel and perhaps the content itself and for that the review might rile some people up, yet the novel never gave me that impression. Even the main antagonists of the novel, while they might be considered misguided, are rarely outright condemned, instead they help propel the novel by truly thinking what they are doing is best for Cameron and will save her. Instead the novel lets you ask yourself how can you change someone who can’t be changed? And while being asked that, Danforth delivers a well-crafted story and rendition of Miles City, Pacos and all, that if anything should encourage more people to read this novel than less.

(Alex Mitchell is the Miles City Star Intern and an avid reader.)