HIV/AIDS in YA Literature Week
If you would like to read a book on the subject, go over to the non exhaustive bibliography I compiled, don't hesitate to suggest any book missing!
There are not a lot of Young Adult novel with the theme of HIV/AIDS. The new releases on the subject are just a handful each year, but each book published is a new adventure. From the few I have read and the others I have browsed, none are the same, and they all offer something different. Alex Flinn's Fade To Black is no exception and draws a bigger picture around people deemed "different".
The story is told through three different perspectives. From the point of view of the victim, Alex Crusan first, an HIV-positive teenager whose car has been shattered by a baseball bat while he was in the car. From the point of view of the witness, Daria a teenage girl with Down Syndrome who goes to the same school as Alex. And finally, from the point of view of Clinton, the guy who doesn't hide he has a problem with Alex at school, the guy who was seen next to the crime location the morning it took place.
Fade To Black is an absolutely unique and beautiful story. Told in three conflicting point of views, it shows how different "truth" can be. Alex Flinn got into the head of both Alex and Daria in a way that will stay with you. Not because you see how they are inside, but because you see, through their eyes, how they are seen by others. They are both "not like other kids" and are looked as such. Alex explains how other teenagers avert their eyes when they cross him in the school corridors because they don't want him to feel as if they are staring at him and they don't want him to think they are judging him. Alex sees this and thinks it's sometimes worse than someone directly in conflict with him, because at least they interact with him. Even though the other teenagers "don't judge him", they don't try to make friends with him either and Alex explains how lonely he feels all the time. It changes from the black and white conceptions of "people who are against people with AIDS are evil" or "HIV positive people should be quarantined". That's why he relates to Daria who has no friends at school either.
The passages in Clinton's head were the most interesting part to read and I thought the combination of the three perspectives was just so fascinating. When you look at Clinton from the outside, you think he is one of those intolerant self-righteous idiots who can't bear anyone else with a difference. On the inside, it is another story entirely. Other than reading about him being bullied and really loving and caring about his younger sister, you read about someone who acts in sync with his ideas*. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying he is right when he wants to change seats in class because he is sitting next to Alex, on the contrary. But his attitude comes mainly from his ignorance of the virus. His fear of HIV is more important than his hate for Alex. I thought it was an interesting point of view to observe.
One of the major themes is bullying and more particularly how teenagers reject others who don't fit in the right mould*. A minority might be violent or insulting, but the worse is the silent majority feigning not to notice, and not trying to include them. Daria and Alex both talk of how invisible they feel.
The other major theme is family. Without going in too much details, I think that Alex Flinn had the tremendous talent to really go inside the head of those teenagers and show how they interact with their parents. One of the most important aspect I keep noticing in YA literature is how parents fail to understand what is going on in their children's heads. The conflict between Alex and his overprotective mother was quite interesting to read from Alex's point of view, same goes for Daria and Clinton's relations with their respective mothers.
Alex is HIV positive, and as you may know (or not, though you can read my Sunday post (here) if you haven't), he carries the virus but it hasn't completely overtaken his immune system. The book was written in 2005, and it changes from the first wave of YA books written in the 1980s/90s at the early stages of the epidemics. I found it interesting how people's opinion of HIV-positive people differs depending on how the virus was contracted. If it was through a transfusion, it is a tragedy; if it was through drugs or sex it makes the person filthy and they (nearly) deserve their fate.
This story is absolutely beautiful and helps you get inside the head of someone who is HIV positive, as well as someone with Down Syndrome. Alex Flinn's writing is simply perfect. She really gets into the head of these three teenagers and brings us a fascinating story. In very simple words and powerful ideas, we get our own conceptions thrown back at us and we just realise how much more beautiful the world is with all its shades of grey.
I cannot recommend this book enough as it a fascinating YA novel for people wanting to know more about HIV, but also about major issues teenagers encounter such as bullying or the relationship they have with their families.
*The use of these expressions necessitated the help of Lauren and Carla, because I fail at writing English tonight. Thank you :D