Life with HIV, through a teen's eyes

Boy trouble, friendship problems, growing up and protective parents. Full Disclosure checks off all the narrative beats common for a young adult (YA) novel, but it is far from typical.

Its heroine Simone is a black teenager who was born with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), adopted from birth by a gay couple. She leads a healthy life with the help of medication.

The book is an uplifting and optimistic look at life with HIV, which is still often stigmatised as a contagious death sentence despite leaps forward in the treatment of the disease.

Simone – armed with loving family and friends – navigates the pitfalls of high-school relationships and an anonymous stalker who threatens to disclose her positive status to the whole school.

The book takes care to educate its readers on HIV, meting out information such as the “undetectable = untransmittable” rule – when a HIV-positive person’s viral load is controlled at undetectable levels in his blood, he cannot transmit the disease sexually.

These facts are seamlessly incorporated in a way that, thankfully, stays true to and services the story.

American author Camryn Garrett is only 19 and penned this debut novel at 17. As a teenager herself, she captures what makes adolescence special – the amplification of things that adults treat as minor or ordinary.

Every little unhappiness between best friends is dramatic, that first kiss or even the first brush of the hand with a crush is mind-blowing and sex is both hotly anticipated yet intimidating.

And while the book touches on larger, weightier themes of racism, the Aids crisis, prejudice and stigma, everything is filtered through the lens of adolescence, as it should be.

When Simone fends off a racist comment from a lacrosse player, what follows is not a deep conversation about black oppression. Rather, she gets upset at her love interest, a black lacrosse player, for remaining on the team of mostly white boys.



By Camryn Garrett

Penguin Books/ Paperback/ 320 pages/ $18.14/ Books Kinokuniya/4 stars

While the protagonist is well-crafted and very likeable, the other characters have little nuance – the supportive friend, the acerbic friend, the loving, protective parents and the boy who is too perfect, dreamy and flawless.

The book’s ending twist is also a clunky and unearned attempt to humanise the antagonist of the story, who similarly suffers from a lack of any real character work.

Still, it is an engaging and refreshing work of YA that brims with positivity and light, and positions the experiences of a heroine, so easily sidelined in other works of art, front and centre.

If you like this, read: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon (Random House Children’s Publishers UK, 2015, $19.21, Books Kinokuniya), a coming-of-age story about a 17-year-old girl being treated for severe combined immunodeficiency.

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