Positively by Courtney Sheinmel is a beautiful and thought provoking novel about a teen girl that is HIV positive. When we meet Emmy, she is 13 and her mother has just passed away from complications due to the AIDS virus. She is scared and lonely and everything in her life has changed in this moment. She will have to go live with her father and step-mother who is expecting a child soon. The reality of living with HIV is tough for Emmy who can’t seem to fit in anywhere anymore. Her friends at school don’t understand. Her step-mother is too neat and overbearing. Her father isn’t help either. By the time Emmy’s emotions boil over, she has pushed away her best friend, disappointed her father, and scared her step-mother into suggesting that Emmy be sent away for the summer to a camp for others that are HIV positive.
Emmy resists joining the fun at camp. She finally doesn’t feel different, but can’t seem to move forward. Throughout the book, Emmy is insightful and sincere, sharing her story with deep emotion and feeling. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a 13 year old narrator dealing with so much. I was pleasantly surprised and moved by the story. Emmy shows real anger, perspective, fear, and in the end makes positive changes in her life. In simple narrative in the back of the book, Courtney Sheinmel tells her story of growing up being a volunteer of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, befriending Glaser and her family. Sheinmel drew on her experience working with the foundation to write Positively. While this book dealt with real-life difficulties, pain, and life and death I felt really good after reading the story. It teaches important lessons about how to stay positive, that everyone makes mistakes, and walks young adult readers through a life with HIV. I hope YA readers are able to gain empathy and perspective on children with health problems like this. I would recommend this book to 6th graders and up.