I picked up an ARC of this book at YALC. Sold when the author was only 17, this is the first of a two-book deal for now-freshman Camryn Garrett. And honestly, there’s a lot to be proud of here.
In a community that isn’t always understanding, an HIV-positive teen must navigate fear, disclosure, and radical self-acceptance when she falls in love–and lust–for the first time. Powerful and uplifting, Full Disclosure will speak to fans of Angie Thomas and Nicola Yoon.
Simone Garcia-Hampton is starting over at a new school, and this time things will be different. She’s making real friends, making a name for herself as student director of Rent, and making a play for Miles, the guy who makes her melt every time he walks into a room. The last thing she wants is for word to get out that she’s HIV-positive, because last time . . . well, last time things got ugly.
Keeping her viral load under control is easy, but keeping her diagnosis under wraps is not so simple. As Simone and Miles start going out for real–shy kisses escalating into much more–she feels an uneasiness that goes beyond butterflies. She knows she has to tell him that she’s positive, especially if sex is a possibility, but she’s terrified of how he’ll react! And then she finds an anonymous note in her locker: I know you have HIV. You have until Thanksgiving to stop hanging out with Miles. Or everyone else will know too.
Simone’s first instinct is to protect her secret at all costs, but as she gains a deeper understanding of the prejudice and fear in her community, she begins to wonder if the only way to rise above is to face the haters head-on…
I was really torn on how to rate this one. On the one hand, I thoroughly enjoyed this sweet story of Simone’s first boyfriend (although not first partner) and her discovering herself and her sexuality as part of this. Her story of learning who she is and how she deals with her relationship, as well as the struggle of having a relationship when you’re HIV+ is really important in terms of normalising the struggle of stigma which is attached to this disease. As well as that, Simone as a character was really interesting, and had a lot going on. She had a good relationship with her parents and plenty to keep her interesting as a main character.
However, there was … really a lot going on here. Simone is black, bisexual, HIV+ and a child of queer parents, dealing with discovering her sexuality, coming out, moving to a new school, juggling a new relationship with her (not that old, frankly) friends, plus blackmail, and the threat of being publicly outed as HIV+. Plus she’s got a fraught relationship with her half-brother, there’s more thrown in about one of her fathers being estranged from his family, she’s making new friends in group therapy, AND she’s thinking about embarking on having sex for the first time (plus all the extra thought that has to go into that given her positive status). Plus she has two best friends that she only met a few months ago, she’s still dealing with just having changed schools, and she’s just become the director of the school musical (which, of course, is Rent, for really knocking people over the head with the symbolism). I think my problem is that TOO MUCH was going on here. There were so many moving parts that nothing really got the attention it deserved.
Simone’s relationship with Miles took centre stage, of course (pun intended), as it’s the focus of the book. But that meant that her slightly fraught relationship with her brother, her best friendships with Lydia and Claudia, her parental support, and even her new friends from group, didn’t really get the time or the attention that they deserved. And that did a disservice to something which actually seemed really valuable.
Funnily enough, this is the second book I’ve read this month that featured a teen who’s into musical theatre and going to group therapy. How’s that for a coincidence? Actually, though, in this case, I thought there was a lot of presumption on the part of the author that the reader would be familiar with the musicals being discussed, and therefore there was a lot left unsaid which would’ve been helpful to add context to the book. There was also a lot of reference to Lin-Manuel Miranda without any context of who he is. Nothing terribly wrong with this, but I doubt that everyone reading this book would be as into musical theatre as I am, and therefore might have no idea what is going on.
There was a LOT of diversity in this book. In fact, everyone had some diverse characteristics, which was nice. I also liked some of the meta commentary within the book, such as on Friends, which points out that in the entire ten-season run of Friends, only one recurring character is black. But almost everyone that Simone interacted with, she had some kind of conflict with. So that got… wearing.
And my final complaint, which is actually a big one, and has two parts, was that while I understand what this book was trying to do in destigmatising HIV, which it actually does an admirable job of doing, there were two glaring errors of judgment (I think, at any rate) in the narrative.
- HIV is described as being no different to asthma or diabetes. Which it is not. Asthma and diabetes, both chronic illnesses in the same way that HIV is, are not contagious. No matter how badly managed, you cannot give someone else asthma. HIV, when unmanaged, can be passed on to others. That’s just an irresponsible comparison. Well-managed HIV is no different to well-managed asthma or diabetes, in that they present no risks to any parties involved. But that’s not what the book says.
- The only sex scene in the book depicts oral sex, and despite Simone having had a conversation only pages earlier about needing to use a prophylactic during oral, there’s no mention (at all!) of a dental dam being used. Not only are dental dams or condoms crucial for oral sex, they’re even more crucial for Simone, and this was specifically mentioned just beforehand! It seems like a glaring editorial omission that a dental dam was not mentioned in this scene. I thought it might have been implied, but actually there’s a scene later in the book which depicts condoms being purchased for the first time, which makes this even more worrying.
All in all, I think there’s too much going on in this book for it to really hit the mark as well as it might otherwise have done. There are too many moving parts, and nothing gets quite the amount of attention it deserves. First love, first sex, coming out, being forcibly outed as HIV+, dealing with your half-brother’s feelings on your shared parent’s second marriage, dealing with feelings on being adopted, positioning bisexuality within the LGBT+ spectrum, new best friends, making friends from group, directing your first theatre production … too much going on here.
The love story in this was sweet. Miles is sweet. Their relationship is sweet. The hurdles that they face in terms of their identities as black teenagers and Miles’ position on the (primarily white) lacrosse team, plus the perceptions of Simone’s HIV+ status, would have been enough to make this a great book. Throwing in absolutely everything else as well makes this cluttered and enjoyable, but not as impactful as it could be.
Plus, destigmatising HIV+ status while not encouraging condom/dental dam use for oral. That’s just irresponsible. Camryn Garrett, the author, was only 17 when she wrote this, but with the weight of a major publishing house behind her, I really, really hope that’s not something that makes it into the final print.
PS – That cover art, though? INCREDIBLE. Five stars for that.