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Brave New Voices August 26, 2012

Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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I read two debut novels in the past month–one is out, the other will be published in September–and was blown away by both. Printz and Morris committees should take note; both of these books should get serious consideration this fall.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth

Cameron’s story begins with the news that her parents have died in an accident, but her first thought is relief that they will never know she has been kissing her best friend Irene. Growing up in Miles City, Montana, Cameron becomes an expert at dealing with her Grandmother, her ultra-Christian Aunt Ruth, and her growing attraction to girls, especially her best friend Coley Taylor.

This is a coming-out story, a coming of age story, and especially, a portrait of a particular time and place. Danforth nails the sounds and sights of Miles City without ever losing Cameron’s voice or getting bogged down in descriptions. Two aspects of Cameron lend themselves to this obsession with details: Her favorite pastime is watching movies and she has a habit of picking up small items and turning them into decor for her old dollhouse. Movie references ground the story in the mid-1990’s and also help the reader understand how and why Cameron sees the world in a certain way. Her ability to process the motivations of people around her, as well as her instinct for connection make Cameron a truly compelling narrator, and I’m excited to see what other stories and characters Danforth creates.

Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie

Kokie takes on multiple heavy subjects in this first novel: parental abuse, discovering the homosexuality of a sibling, losing a family member in the military. It is to her credit that the book doesn’t feel unwieldy and also doesn’t hit the reader over the head with the lessons the main character learns. Occasionally I wanted to strangle the narrator (‘Just LET SOMEONE HELP YOU!’ kept running through my head) but I always understood the reasoning behind his decisions.

It’s almost the end of the school year and Matt Foster is struggling. He’s trying to figure out what he’ll do after high school, since college isn’t an option. He’s trying to avoid the worst of his father’s anger and his feelings for his best friend, Shauna. Most of all he’s trying to come to terms with his brother TJ’s death. Maybe he will find some answers if he looks at his brother’s belongings that the army returned. But some objects bring more questions than answers and in the end, Matt will have to revisit his image of who his brother was and come to terms with the truth.

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