Positive: a memoir by Paige Rawl with Ali Benjamin and forward by Jay Asher. 288 p. HarperCollins Publishers, August, 2014. 9780062342515. (Purchased.)
How does a pretty, popular, bright cheerleader end up on the receiving end of relentless bullying? By confiding in her best friend the fact that she's HIV-positive at an evening school event. Within minutes, sixth grader Paige Rawl sensed a change in vibe from her classmates and within days, she's dubbed PAIDS, finds her name scrawled on bathroom walls and is viciously cyberbullied. When someone forges a threatening note to Paige's now ex-best friend, school administrator's don't believe Paige. When she finally confides in the school counselor, the counselor accuses Paige of being dramatic and infers that she's the cause of the problem. Phone calls and letters from Paige's mother to administration go unanswered and Paige's grades plummet and she hates to go to school. The cumulative effects of the stress led to a type of seizure disorder and eventually Paige left school to be homeschooled.
Once she hit high school, she was ready to try mainstream schooling again and applied to a charter high school where she and her mother were assured that bullying would not be tolerated and Paige would be accepted. Unfortunately, the years of abuse affected Paige deeply and, despite the positive new environment, she attempted suicide. Time spent in an inpatient psychiatric ward and later, at a sleep away camp for HIV positive kids helped heal.
This engaging and intelligent memoir by an articulate and brave young woman has an informal, almost conversational tone and should resonate with teen readers. As someone with a nursing background, who worked in an ER during the early 80s, I recall the panic over this mystery illness and witnessed some less than exemplary behavior by a few colleagues. It outraged me then and it saddens me now that people still react so ignorantly and cruelly. Particularly cringeworthy were the reactions of school personnel. I cannot imagine either of the schools I've worked in ever treating a student in such a manner.
This book belongs in every middle and high school library. Our eighth grade students study HIV/ AIDS in health. Paige's perspective would add depth and meaning in the health class. The eighth graders also do a memoir unit near the end of the year and this will be a welcome addition to that collection.