Friday, November 21, 2014

Book Review: Positive

Published By: HarperCollins
Publication Date: August 26, 2014
Page Count: 259
Source: Kindly Provided by Publisher
Audience: Young Adult/Adult - Memoir

Memoirs aren't my typical reading fare, but there was something about this one that called out to me. Perhaps it was the fact that this girl had been bullied and as a teacher I want to protect my students from this sort of behavior. Perhaps it was the fact that Paige had the courage to speak on her HIV positive status and its impact on her life. I wanted to know who Paige Rawl was and I wanted to know her story. I'm so glad I veered off my typical fiction reading path to work this one in. Paige's story is equal parts heartbreaking and hopeful. The powerful story of this young woman is one that teens and adults alike can benefit from reading.

Middle school is perhaps one of the most difficult phases of life. I can remember being excited to walk through the doors of middle school for the first time. I couldn't wait to have a locker, to make new friends, and to take more challenging classes. What nobody tells you is that middle school also harbors dark places. Sadly, like many middle school students, I experienced bullying. I don't recall ever telling my parents or other adults about the experience because in my mind it was just something that happened in middle school, a rite of passage of sorts. It wasn't until much later in life that I realized the mean and hurtful comments weren't okay and I didn't have to just shrug them off as if they didn't matter. People can say that words don't hurt, but they do. Words can burrow into the soul and chip away at one's self acceptance. Words in the mouths of the hateful are fierce weapons.

Paige's experience in middle school makes mine look like a sunny day at the park. I won't pretend that my middle school days were so horrible that I ended up ill or irrevocably scarred. It wasn't my favorite time of life, but ultimately I made it out relatively unharmed. I can't say that would have been the case if I had been subjected to the same treatment as Paige. Things were great for her until sixth grade. She had friends and was well liked, but placing her trust in someone she considered to be her best friend turned out to be a tragic mistake. Paige confided in her friend that she has been HIV positive since birth; the friend immediately betrayed Paige's trust and began to tell everyone. Hurtful comments and ignorance began to color Paige's middle school experience from that point forward. Paige stated, "I was learning that when you live in a suburban neighborhood on the northwest side of Indianapolis, and you are in seventh grade, and all you want is to be surrounded by friends, different is about the very worst thing you can be" (pg. XIII). How sad that children are taught to fear differences rather than to embrace them. This sort of backwards thinking must change.

My heart ached for Paige. I couldn't believe the ignorant, rude, and hurtful behavior of the students and staff at her middle school. As an educator, I wanted to protect Paige. I loathed that the school did virtually nothing to help her citing that she was stirring up drama. How are students supposed to confide in their teachers, counselors, and administrators when things like this happen? What does that say about adults to turn a blind eye to a child in pain? In large part, it seemed like this occurred because the staff was not educated on HIV and they felt like kids from good families would never engage in such behavior. It appalls me to think that in our time people still do not understand HIV and that anyone would be bullied for a health condition.

How do we stop bullying and ignorance? How do we help kids see their worth in the face of hurtful comments and demeaning attitudes? Why do we allow these things to occur in school hallways across the United States on a daily basis? Stricter laws and policies concerning bullying are becoming more prevalent, but is it enough?

I have to applaud Paige for being so candid about her story. In spite of the happy ending, there are some segments that were difficult to read. In addition to the bullying, Paige also attempts to commit suicide. There were moments when I couldn't see to read because I was crying so much. Paige touched my heart and her story inspires me to be a better person. I never engaged in the behaviors of her tormentors, but I am sure that at some point in my school career I said hurtful things to a peer. I also wonder how many people I could have helped if I had slowed down to observe what was happening around me. My mind instantly goes back to one friend I had who experienced so many instances of bullying that she dropped out of school. Perhaps if I had been a better, more observant friend, I could have helped. I am reminded that I need to fight harder for every student who walks through my classroom door. 

I was so moved and absorbed in Paige's story that I couldn't stop reading. I devoured this in one sitting and still find thoughts percolating in my brain. This is not a story that will leave me anytime soon. It has made a lasting impression on my heart. I wish Paige Rawl nothing but happiness and success. I hope that she continues to use her story to inspire others. The world is truly a better place because she exists.

P.S. - There is a powerful foreword written by Jay Asher. That was a welcome surprise for me. 

One Last Gripe: I cannot believe Paige's counselor acted the way she did. That woman should be fired.

Favorite Thing About This Book: HIV/AIDS have dominated a large portion of my life. I can remember learning about Ryan White as a kid. Health class was full of facts and preventative measures. The disease impacted my generation as we ventured off into college and marriage; it made us think rather than make impulsive decisions. A tv show, General Hospital, brought the disease more into my consciousness as I watched Stone and Robin struggle with HIV/AIDS. Since watching those clips from the mid-90's, I have been interested in learning more about the virus and how I can help educate others. This book was not only Paige's story, but it is also an informational text on living with HIV. 

First Sentence: Today, when I tell people that I took medicine every single day for almost a decade without ever once wondering why, they sometimes look at me like I have three heads.

In this compelling and compulsively readable memoir, nineteen-year-old Paige Rawl tells the story of how she was mercilessly bullied in middle school...and how she overcame the ordeal to change her world for the better.

In this astonishing memoir, Paige tells a story that is both deeply personal and completely universal—one that will resonate deeply with the thousands of children and adults whose lives have been touched by bullying.

Paige Rawl has been HIV positive since birth…but growing up, she never felt like her illness defined her. It never prevented her from entering beauty pageants or playing soccer or making the honor role.

On an unremarkable day in middle school, while attempting to console a friend, Paige disclosed her HIV-positive status—and within hours the bullying began. She was called "PAIDS," first in whispers, then out in the open. Her soccer coach joked that she was an asset because opposing team members would be too afraid to touch her. Her guidance counselor told her to stop all the “drama,” and her principal said she couldn’t protect her. One night, desperate for escape, Paige swallowed fifteen sleeping pills—one for each year of her life to date. That could have been the end of her story. Instead, it was only the beginning. 

The gripping first-person account of Paige’s life will pull in even the most reluctant readers of nonfiction, and her call to action to choose compassion over cruelty will stay with them long after they turn the last page.


  1. Bullying is something I feel strongly about as well and personally really hate. I have never had it happen to me but I have a little sister who is disabled and I have had to deal with bullies for her far too often for my liking. I have also seen this memoir around and would really like to learn about Paige's story myself in the future.

    1. I also have strong feelings about bullying. It needs to stop. I'm sorry to hear about the issues your sister has had to face. I don't understand mean people. I hope you'll pick this one up. It's worth the time.

  2. Just reading this review made me feel like crying. Bullying is such a touchy subject to me since I experienced it when I was in kindergarten. I didn't have it as bad, but it still left a scar in my heart. People that go through stuff like this get hurt and sometimes it won't leave you. Never, ever. I'm so glad people are being more open about this and are trying to change how kids treat each other. Like you, I hope things at school's change and kids behave better. I also hope that the kids that are bullied can be strong enough to keep going. What a touching review Andrea! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    1. I teared up several times while reading this one and when I was writing the review. Paige's story is so raw and emotional, but it's vastly important. Like you mentioned, too many kids face bullying. This is something we need to stop from happening.

  3. I don't read memoir either, but it's such a different type of memoir, from a kid's perspective and I believe it's so necessary and could be required reading in class.

    Lovely review :)

    1. It wasn't written like nonfiction. I found Paige's story to be relatable and compelling.

  4. Thanks for the review. I applaud her strength to share her story with the world.

    1. Paige is certainly a strong young lady. I don't know if I could have handled all the obstacles she faced.

  5. I REALLY want to read this! I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this!


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