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Getting to Zero: AIDS in Young Adult Literature

Tomorrow is World AIDS Awareness Day, and the theme for the next several years is “Getting to zero: zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS related deaths.” Despite advances in treatment and an increased awareness about transmission of the disease, the statistics related to HIV positive individuals and new infection rates are alarming: 1.2 million in the United States are living with HIV, and about 20% of them are unaware of their status. Tens of thousands are diagnosed each year, and the infections are completely preventable with education and awareness. Reading literature about characters living with this affliction is one way to promote understanding that will reduce the stigma associated with the disease as well as increase education. These novels (and one nonfiction title) tackle this issue.

Positively by Courtney Scheinmel

Thirteen-year-old Emmy, grieving over her mother who died of AIDS, resentful of having to live with her father and pregnant stepmother, and despairing about her future, finds hope at a summer camp for HIV-positive girls like herself. Includes facts about Elizabeth Glaser, one of the founders of the Pediatric AIDS Foundation.




Fade to Black by Alex Flinn 

An HIV-positive high school student hospitalized after being attacked, the bigot accused of the crime, and the only witness, a classmate with Down Syndrome, reveal how the assault has changed their lives as they tell of its aftermath.



Chanda’s Secret by Allan Stratton (2005 Printz Award, 2005 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, 2005 Best Books for Young Adults

Sixteen-year-old Chanda Kabelo has secrets. She loves school and dreams of winning a scholarship one day, but people are dying around her. Everyone is afraid to say why, but Chanda knows: it’s because of AIDS. In this story of a girl’s struggle amid the African AIDS pandemic, Chanda is an astonishingly perceptive girl living in the small city of Bonang, a fictional city in Southern Africa. When her youngest sister dies, the first hint of HIV/AIDS emerges, Chanda must confront undercurrents of shame and stigma. Not afraid to explore the horrific realities of AIDS, Chanda’s Secrets also captures the enduring strength of loyalty, friendship and family ties. Above all, it is a story about the corrosive nature of secrets and the healing power of truth.


With or Without You by Brian Farrey

When eighteen-year-old best friends Evan and Davis of Madison, Wisconsin, join a community center group called “chasers” to gain acceptance and knowledge of gay history, there may be fatal consequences.



Quicksand: HIV/AIDS in Our Lives by Anonymous

Weaving together her own story with straightforward questions and answers, the author explains the real ways that HIV/AIDS can be transmitted and explores the common experiences and emotions that might be encountered by friends and family members of someone who has the virus. She also discusses why HIV/AIDS is often still kept a secret and the importance of treating this condition like any other. With up-to-date medical information that has been thoroughly vetted by experts, this first-person narrative offers an invaluable look at what it is like to watch someone you know battle HIV/AIDS.


For additional information and resources for AIDS awareness, education and prevention, check out the US government’s website and the Centers for Disease Control.

— Molly Wetta, currently reading Shadowlands by Kate Brian and The Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

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Molly is the Senior Librarian for Youth Services, Programming, and Marketing at Santa Barbara (CA) Public Library. She is a former member manager of YALSA's The Hub.