Prather’s Pick: A memoir about being HIV positive and bullied
January 27, 2015
This week's book is written for young adults, but older readers will learn a lot from reading it, too. "Positive: Surviving My Bullies, Finding Hope, and Living to Change the World" is a memoir, written by Paige Rawl, with Ali Benjamin. The foreward to the book was written by Jay Asher.
Taking medicine has been part of Paige Rawl's daily routine since she was very young — about two and a half years of age, in fact. That's when Paige's mother learned that she was HIV positive. Realizing that mothers can pass the virus along to their babies during pregnancy and birth, Paige's mother had her tested, too. (Paige's mother was infected by Paige's father. They broke up, and when Paige was about six years old, he died of AIDS.)
But despite taking the medicine and all of the hospital visits, Paige had "a pretty good life." She did what all other kids do — played with Barbies, learned to ride a bike, jumped on the trampoline, and went to school. Paige didn't even know she was HIV positive until she went to the dentist one day when she was in fourth grade.
In 2006, Paige was ready to begin middle school. She was "totally giddy" about her first day at Clarkstown Middle School. (The name of the middle school and some other names were changed when writing this memoir.) She loved everything about the school — the lockers, the colorful flags that hung from the ceiling, the football field, and all the commotion from the kids inside. There were so many potential friends. Paige made a best friend, a girl named Yasmine. They were inseparable.
Then one day Paige told Yasmine that she was HIV positive. Right away, everything changed. Yasmine told her sister. Word spread quickly — very quickly — and Yasmine shunned Paige. So did a lot of other kids. They were afraid they would "catch" AIDS from her. Paige was "set up" by someone who put a note in Yasmine's locker that had the words "terrorist" and "go home" in it. The note was signed by Paige, but she never wrote it. The school counselor didn't believe Paige.
The bullying went on "24 hours a day, seven days a week." Paige found her name on the bathroom wall, with horrible words written underneath. The kids called her PAIDS. When Paige sought out the school counselor to talk about what was happening to her, the counselor said, "I think this is enough drama, don't you?" And there was a lot more.
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Paige did have good friends, like Erin, Mariah and Amber. She made the cheerleading squad, and she was second runner-up in the Sweetheart Pageant, but the bullying had left scars that started to have an effect on her. Add to this the stress of starting a lawsuit against the middle school. Paige started having seizures and stomach pains. She tried cutting herself. Paige's mother took her out of school. She studied at home.
When it was time to start high school, the head of Heron High School assured Paige and her mother that bullying was not allowed at their school, and it wasn't. However, the stress had gotten to Paige, and one day she swallowed fifteen of her mother's sleeping pills. She ended up at Northside Pavilion, a stress center.
The bullying that Paige endured is horrifying, and she cited lots of other victims of bullying that have resulted in suicide. Paige decided to become an advocate for youth, with an antibullying crusade and an educator about HIV and AIDS. She has been on television, spoken during conferences, and featured in magazines such as "People" and "Seventeen."
Most recently, Paige was Miss Indiana Teen Essence 2011 and Miss Indiana High School America 2012. She is currently a student at Ball State University where she plans to study molecular biology, hoping help to make HIV a thing of the past.
This book is an eye-opener about both bullying and HIV. At the end of the book is information about bullying and HIV resources, facts, and suggestions for dealing with bullying.
"Positive" is published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2014. The hardcover book costs $18.99. It is also a new book at the Moffat County Library.