Positive: Surviving My Bullies, Finding Hope, and Living to Change the World

Book review by
Kate Pavao, Common Sense Media
Positive: Surviving My Bullies, Finding Hope, and Living to Change the World Book Poster Image
Brave memoir about HIV offers new perspective and hope.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Teens will learn about HIV and AIDS and about the dangerous impact of bullying, including cyberbullying. In the back matter, the young author includes facts and resources, including crisis hotline information.

Positive Messages

The overall message in Positive is about standing up for yourself -- and others. Paige ultimately decides that being "good" isn't just about trying to get along but also about speaking up for what's right.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Paige is honest about the hard times she's had -- bullying drives her to cut herself and even attempt suicide. But, although she sometimes makes dangerous decisions out of desperation, she grows stronger and learns to deal with stress in a healthier way. She also learns to become an activist who speaks up for others. 

Violence

Paige is bullied at school and online, and a girl throws an icy soda at her while she's walking home. As a result of being bullied, she cuts herself and tries to commit suicide. She talks about other kids who were raped, tormented, and driven to suicide. She meets kids who've been victimized in other ways, too, including a boy whose father injected him with HIV-infected blood, and a 14-year-old who was raped by a family member. 

Sex

Paige kisses a boy who later is bullied at school because of their relationship. She gets a crush on another boy at camp, whom she calls her Prince Charming. Her father was unfaithful and infected her mother with HIV (who passed it on to her before she was born). There is some discussion about how HIV can be transmitted sexually, and Paige makes a reference to the importance of safe sex and gives information about Planned Parenthood in the back matter.

Language

A few uses of "f--k" and one "s--t." Paige is called a "bitch," a "slut," and a "ho." A few other words, such as "God," "ass," and "hell."

Consumerism

A few products are sprinkled throughout, such as Carnation Instant Breakfast, Dixie Cups, Snapple, Coke, McDonald's, People magazine, and Walt Disney World.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Paige imagines her former friends sneaking beer into a party. Her mother takes sleeping pills, which Paige uses for her suicide attempt.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Positive is a memoir written by 20-year-old Paige Rawl, who was born HIV positive. Teens will learn about HIV and AIDS and also about the dangerous impact of bullying, including cyberbullying. In the back matter, the young author includes facts about how the virus is transmitted (and not) as well as resources such as crisis hotlines and information about where to get an HIV test. Paige is bullied at school and online, and, as a result, she cuts herself and even tries to commit suicide. She talks about other kids who were raped, tormented, and driven to suicide. She meets kids who have been victimized in other ways, too, including a boy whose father injected him with HIV-infected blood. But, although Paige sometimes makes dangerous decisions out of desperation, she grows stronger and learns to deal with stress in a healthier way. As she becomes an activist, she ultimately decides that being "good" isn't just​ about trying to get along but also about speaking up for what's right.

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What's the story?

In POSITIVE, Paige reveals that she was born with HIV and grew up taking medicine and traveling to lots of doctor's appointments. Mostly, though, she was a normal kid who participated in beauty pageants and became a cheerleader in middle school and worked hard to be a good student. Growing up, she kept her HIV status a secret, but, when she tells her best friend, the gossip spreads instantly -- and soon she's facing painful bullying at school and an unsupportive school staff that blames her for much of what they call "drama." The name-calling and notes get so bad that she eventually starts having stress-related seizures and engages in cutting. But, as she starts to live out loud, filing a law suit against her school district and talking publicly about her HIV status, even at a pageant where she's named Miss Indiana High School America, she draws new conclusions about what it means to be a "good girl" and why it's important to stand up for what you believe in.

Is it any good?

The young memoirist manages to educate readers about HIV and AIDS as well as the devastating effects of bullying in her poignant account.

The narration sometimes feels more like a speech than a story ("What is this thing we do, I wonder, this all-too-common human tendency to attack other people, or to pile on to attacks?"). But as readers follow her personal journey from middle school target to activist, they will be touched by her mature belief that her painful experiences eventually led her to a richer life -- and her commitment to help others.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about bullying. Were you surprised by what Paige experienced? Families can delve deeper into the topic at our Topic Center on cyberbullying

  • Paige references several students who committed suicide after being bullied. If you were in charge, what would you do to make all kids feel safe at school?

  • What do you think about Paige's statistic: An estimated 1 in 4 new HIV infections happens to young people between the ages of 13 and 24. Do you think there's enough education about HIV and AIDS?

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