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Positively by Courtney Sheinmel

November 16th, 2009 (07:00 am)
thirsty

Current Mood: thirsty
Current Song: The Prisoner score music

Emerson is HIV-positive, having acquired it from her mother during the pregnancy. When she was eight, her parents got divorced. Emmy stayed with her mom, and the two became extremely close. Five years later, shortly after she finishes seventh grade and turns thirteen, Emmy's world turns upside down. Her mom passes away from AIDS. Emmy has to go live with her father and stepmother, who are expecting a child. With only the best of intentions, they send Emmy to Camp Positive, a summer camp for young girls who are HIV-positive.

Emmy is reluctant to attend Camp Positive. She doesn't want to be constantly reminded of what's in her blood, what killed her mother - the only thing her mother ever gave her that neither of them would have wanted for her or anyone else. Then she realizes that she's surrounded by people who get it. Unlike her best friend at home, Nicole, the kids at camp understand what it's like to have to take pills every day and to have blood drawn and tested and checked on a regular basis. They know what it's like to be cautious, and to be scared. At the same time, they aren't always frozen by fear. They can laugh, and have fun, and eat junk food, and be kids. They can have a life that doesn't wholly revolve around their illnesses or their worries. They can have hope and happiness. Without meaning to, she starts to enjoy camp. Without realizing it, she starts to enjoy life again. She makes new friends. She reaches out. She learns how to be brave.

Emmy's story isn't just about being sick, but about being well. It isn't just about losing a mother, but loving and remembering her, always. This is a camp story, a summer story, a survivor's story, and a daughter's story all wrapped up in one.

Courtney Sheinmel's second novel, Positively, is as thought-provoking and memorable as her first, My So-Called Family. Both accurately capture the voices of young teens as they try to navigate their ways through the world, creating their own paths even as they discover the legacies created by their parents. Both novels are pitch-perfect for their target audience of early teens.

Positively answers questions about AIDS and HIV truthfully and gracefully, without ever being racy or disrespectful. As Courtney was moved to get involved with The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation after reading a magazine article when she herself was a teenager, may this novel move readers to become likewise educated and involved.

Note: Though Emerson and the other characters in Positively are fictious, the story was inspired, in part, by the author's involvement with The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. You can learn more about the Foundation and the inspiration for this novel in my interviews with Courtney in 2008 and 2009.

Favorite passages:

I could hear the ordinary, everyday sounds - wheels against pavement, wind rustling the leaves in the trees. A car drove by, like it was any other day. Why was everything still moving? I felt like everything should have stopped. How was I still breathing? I sucked in my breath and held it to see if it was possible to make time stop, but I could still feel my hear beating in my chest and I let my breath out clowly. - Page 3

...Mom had bought a bunch of books she wanted me to read -- books she wanted me to read now, and books for adults that she wanted me to have later on. [...] I imagined her bringing the stack of books to the counter to pay. The cashier wouldn't have known the reason Mom was buying them. She would've just taken Mom's money and put the books in a bag. - Pages 30-31

I wonder how far away something has to be before you can't see it anymore. What's the exact distance that is the difference between seeing it and having it disappear? - Page 154

How long can fingerprints stay on something before they fade away? - Page 204

What to read next: If you enjoyed Positively, you should pick up The Pursuit of Happiness by Tara Altebrando, another touching story following a teenage girl through her first summer without her mother. (Note that Pursuit is for a slightly older audience, as the main character, Betsy, is an incoming senior in high school.) You should also get Courtney Sheinmel's wonderful debut novel, My So-Called Family, as noted above.

Related posts at Bildungsroman:
Interview: Courtney Sheinmel (2009)
Interview: Courtney Sheinmel (2008)
Book Review: My So-Called Family by Courtney Sheinmel
Book Review: Stella Batts Needs a New Name by Courtney Sheinmel, illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell
Family: Courtney Sheinmel
Hope: Courtney Sheinmel