Review: Positively

“Courtney Sheinmel has captured, with honesty and perception, the complicated thoughts of thirteen-year-old Emmy Price as she navigates her life during the difficult months following her mother’s death from AIDS. Emmy, who’s HIV-positive, not only must deal with the loss of the person she loved the most, but must face her own illness with a new sense of heart-wrenching reality. I cheered every one of Emmy’s cautious steps on her journey to make a place for herself in a world without her mother.” — Blurb by Ann M. Martin, author of A Corner of the Universe and A Dog’s Life

When you think of AIDS and HIV, you probably don’t envision a 13-year-old girl, which is exactly why Courtney Sheinmel’s Positively is so important. Sheinmel gives a face and a name to one of thousands of children living with HIV. The novel begins as Emerson (Emmy) loses her mom to AIDS, leaving her with her father, step-mother, and a new baby sister on the way. Emmy’s grief and anger at the world is so powerful and well-written; I began to fear that I was going to sob through the entire novel. Of course, I should have known from the title that the book would ultimately be positive. When Emmy is sent to a camp for kids with HIV, she discovers that she is not alone, finding her place in the world amongst people who don’t make her feel different because of her disease.

I don’t read a lot of middle grade books, but I also don’t see too many books in general about children living with AIDS or HIV. I knew that this was a must-read. The world needs more books like Positively, which provides a voice for children who are often underrepresented, without giving way to cliche or sugarcoating. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that the voice actually felt true to a thirteen-year-old.

Positively is honest about the seriousness of HIV, but it insists that those with the disease must go on living anyway. I can’t imagine a more perfect message than this: Diseased or not, we all die someday, so what will you make of the time you have? If you give in to wallowing and self-pity for too long, the disease might as well have killed you already. Positively will inspire you to let go of your fears and inhibitions, and go on living with all the grace and dignity you can preserve.

Another wonderful reason to buy this book: Courtney Sheinmel is donating part of the proceeds to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. The book also includes an author’s note about Sheinmel’s own experiences working for the Foundation, which inspired her writing, breathing life and credibility into the novel.

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