There are books that you don’t put down because you are obligated to read them, either because of a school assignment or a journal review, which was the case with the book I read before Positive: A Memoir. Then there are the books you don’t put down because they are so good or so absorbing you want to/need to keep reading, which is the case with Paige Rawl’s story of the middle school bullying she faced and overcame because of her HIV+ status.
At the age of three, Paige and her mother were diagnosed HIV+. Her mother contracted it through Paige’s father and passed it on to her. Their lives would never be the same. There was the regimen of pills to counteract the HIV, and pills to moderate the depression and loss of appetite caused by the medication. But that was their lives and Paige knew nothing different. To her, her disability or illness was no different than someone with asthma or allergies. So when she mentioned it to her best friend, Yasmine, in passing (“everyone has something”) the reaction was so unexpected. Within minutes, this knowledge was spread to other students who lost no time in ridiculing her, calling her Ho and PAID, telling her she has AIDS and making life miserable.
We all know the impact of bullying on teens. We read it in the newspapers all the time. Teen suicide is on the rise. Cutting is becoming more prevalent. It was no different with Paige. She went through all these emotions. We also know that schools are ill equipped to counteract bullying, as was Paige’s school. One counselor told her to ‘just don’t tell anyone you’re HIV+”. Another told her “to cut the drama”. She was unable to get satisfaction through our legal system as well, unable to get a trial in order to make her situation public.
Luckily for Paige, she was able to overcome this. She had a very supportive mother and some great friends who stood by her.
Listen, in my mind, bullying doesn’t even have to be directed at a person. Even commenting amongst ourselves is a form of bullying. If you see an effeminate man and make comments to your co-workers, that’s a form a bullying. If you see a man dressed in women’s clothing and whisper, that’s a form of bullying, only because you are not seeing what’s inside that person and you’re denigrating him. And what’s the next step you might take? Openly commenting?
Positive: A Memoir is a low key, eye opening book. Paige is the exception to the rule. She ultimately chose to be an anti-bullying activist and tell people her story. Most young adults aren’t able to make that leap. Most suffer alone, afraid to tell an adult or having told someone, watch as nothing is done, no or minimal action taken.
With an Introduction by Jay Asher and a list of resources and facts at the end, Positive: A Memoir is a quietly powerful book.