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Blogging Between the Lines

Positive: A Memoir

Positive: A Memoir - Paige Rawl, Ali Benjamin Paige Rawl was born with HIV. As long as she can remember, Paige has taken medication at the same exact time, every single day. What makes that so different from taking insulin shots, using an inhaler, or covering up your eczema?, she wondered. At a middle school lock-in, Paige thought little of telling her best friend the truth about her condition. This trust and naive understanding of just how stigmatized some people can be would change her life forever.

POSITIVE is a story for anyone who has ever been teased, bullied, or shamed. For anyone who has been taunted, beat up, and put down. Paige's story is one not only of hope, but of fighting for your own strength and never giving up or giving in. It is a story choosing to be positive in the face of constant torment.

Paige faced bullying for the rest of her time in middle school, from other students, her soccer coach, and friends of the family. She was misunderstood and ignored by school counselors and administrators. Teachers made few efforts to understand or change her shift from straight-A student to struggling learner. Paige learned quickly not to trust adults, and told no one at home about her problems. Paige's struggle with bullying led to her leaving the public school and being homeschooled for a year. For an extroverted, crowd-loving girl, this was torture. After Paige's mother brought a lawsuit against the school for its inaction in the face of her being bullied, another layer of difficulty was added to the girl's life. When it got to be too much, Paige tried to make it all stop by taking 15 sleeping pills - one for each year of her life - and she nearly died.

In readable, relatable, and touching prose Paige Rawl and Ali Benjamin share the story of a girl who chose to stand up for herself, and for others who have been bullied for being something they did not choose.

The most powerful message in Paige's story is her realization that in order to stop the torment, she would have to change herself. You cannot change other people, but you can make the decision to change your own life, and your own future. And you can try to change the world. Paige made these decisions, became an advocate for youth with HIV and AIDS, and spoke out against bullying. She is still doing these things, and she has made quite an impact.

The message that spoke to me the strongest from Paige's story is the way in which her school counselors and administrators not only did nothing to support her, they discredited her accounts of bullying and implied that Paige herself - simply born with HIV - was the root of the problems. As someone who works with kids and teens every single day, I feel it is my responsibility to protect these young people, to support them in every way I can, and to listen to what they have to say with compassion and understanding. When teachers, those responsible for the well-being and education of our nation's youth for 6 hours a day, do not fulfill these responsibilities I feel furious, saddened, and honestly not completely surprised. Paige is working to change that by advocating for laws that make schools and their employees more accountable for inaction and lack of support in cases of bullied students.

POSITIVE is highly recommended for middle and high school students, for teachers and parents, for caretakers and guardians. The additional resources at the end of the book provide a great starting place for those wanting more information on bullying, what's being done to stop it, facts on HIV and AIDS, as well as where to go for support groups and crisis hotlines.