Simone Garcia-Hampton is starting over at a new school, and this time things will be different. She’s making real friends, making a name for herself as student director of Rent, and making a play for Miles, the guy who makes her melt every time he walks into a room. The last thing she wants is for word to get out that she’s HIV-positive, because last time . . . well, last time things got ugly.
Keeping her viral load under control is easy, but keeping her diagnosis under wraps is not so simple. As Simone and Miles start going out for real–shy kisses escalating into much more–she feels an uneasiness that goes beyond butterflies. She knows she has to tell him that she’s positive, especially if sex is a possibility, but she’s terrified of how he’ll react! And then she finds an anonymous note in her locker: I know you have HIV. You have until Thanksgiving to stop hanging out with Miles. Or everyone else will know too.
Simone’s first instinct is to protect her secret at all costs, but as she gains a deeper understanding of the prejudice and fear in her community, she begins to wonder if the only way to rise above is to face the haters head-on…
There are very few feelings that feel better than discovering that a book you were excited for was even better than what you hoped. It’s been several days since reading Full Disclosure and I’m still thinking about this book. From how it explores the experience of living with HIV, the experience of being a Black teen and how it is told with such a refreshing and genuine voice, to its empowering portrayal of teen sexuality. I’m so excited to tell you about Full Disclosure, which is my first favourite read of 2020.
Explores living with HIV and challenges stigmas
Full Disclosure follows Simone, a Black teen who lives with HIV. She is adopted, has two loving fathers, goes to regular check-ups to monitor her viral load, takes medication, and is also an otherwise ordinary teenager who is passionate about musicals and has a crush on a boy. I think it’s important to highlight that Full Disclosure is not a ‘sad’ story at all – the book doesn’t center its story on Black pain or the ‘struggles’ of living with HIV. Rather, Full Disclosure is a story about a girl whose life is shaped by HIV but is not defined by it.
To be honest, prior to reading Full Disclosure, I was pretty ignorant about what HIV and what it is like to live with being HIV-positive. Although this story does have a ‘blackmail’ subplot, I thought it was handled incredibly well and explores where the stigmas of HIV come from and the impact such stigmas can have at creating violent and ignorant environments. I’m no expert on HIV after reading Full Disclosure – and it’s important to note that the book never sets out to educate the reader – but I can confidently say that this book does a fantastic job at exploring and confronting stigmas and challenges you to reflect on your own ignorance and prejudices in a safe way.
One of the most wonderful teen voices I’ve read
Full Disclosure may, perhaps, one of the best ‘teen voice’ narratives I’ve read in recent memory. Granted, Garrett wrote Full Disclosure when she was a teen herself (which is so amazing!), but I just… I have so, so, so much love for the storytelling in this book. The prose is so heartfelt, and Simone’s voice is so charming and emotive. There are so many small moments that remind you that Simone is a teen character, and I found that so refreshing. For instance, there is a moment in the story where Simone looks over to her crush’s butt, likes what she sees, but then immediately averts her eyes because she feels embarrassed! Her curiosity and her feelings, however imperfect and strongly emotive, and that small hint of naivety is so sweet and real.
Integral to what makes the teen voice so good in Full Disclosure is the dialogue with the important people in Simone’s life. I adored Simone’s best friends. Rather than sit on the periphery for the sake of the main character having a ‘best friend’, Simone’s two best friends Claudia (who is asexual, Asian, and lesbian) and Lydia (who is bisexual and Asian) play a significant role in the story because they are a part of Simone’s life! They are present for most of the story, she confides in them (and I loved that this story subverts the whole trope of main characters keeping secrets, that absolutely should not me kept to themselves, to themselves), their friendships are not always perfect, and she has open and honest discussions with them. I also loved Simone’s two fathers. It is evident how much they love her, but I also liked how they aren’t perfect themselves, are also very present in Simone’s life, and do their best by her no matter what. The relationships in this story were so refreshing, and I’m in awe of the way that Garrett seamlessly incorporates all of these relationships into the story without compromising the development of one relationship for the sake of another (i.e., the love interest).
A candid and brilliantly-handled portrayal of sexuality
What I didn’t expect going into this book was that there are a lot of discussions about sex – but I thought they were fantastically done. Full Disclosure is extremely sex-positive, and I really enjoyed the candid discussions about bodily sexuality, the portrayal of how sexual feelings are felt by teenagers, and also Simone’s experience with questioning her queer identity. The book discusses and promotes safe sex, portrays Simone’s natural curiosity about sex and the implications of her having a sexual partner in the future. Furthermore, the story also examines the conflicted feelings that she has about her sexuality and feelings and how she has to grapple with the challenging relational challenges that may come with disclosing to her crush that she has HIV. All of this is explored genuinely, candidly, and sensitively.
I also liked how Full Disclosure explores Simone’s queer identity. Throughout the book, Simone questions whether she is bisexual, but because of a devastating and traumatic experience, she isn’t quite sure. She grapples with what attraction means for her, what sexuality means for her, and what ‘counts’ as attraction – an experience that I think is common among questioning and queer people who are gradually or slowly coming into their identities. I felt that Simone’s experiences with questioning her identity were authentic, at times heart-breaking because it can feel horrible to not really understand yourself, but ultimately validating.
MY CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
If you haven’t Full Disclosure yet, please do. It’s a spectacular debut that explores an multi-faceted and intersectional experience that we do not often have the opportunity to read about, and has one of the most authentic and powerful teen voices in young adult literature today. I loved this book immensely, and would recommend it to absolutely everyone.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: A Black teen’s secret of living with HIV may be outed if she doesn’t stop dating her crush.
Perfect for: Readers who love contemporary; wants to read a story about living with HIV; appreciate well-rounded stories about being a teen.
Think twice if: Nothing. I genuinely think this is a book that everyone should read.
Genre: young adult contemporary romance
Trigger/content warning: blackmail (see book’s summary), oral sex (not explicitly described), internalised anti-bisexual feelings, racism (challenged)