My Young Adult Novel Was Created to Change the Narrative Around HIV/AIDS

I saw the Whiteness in the existing activism archives and sought to alter the canon

Camryn Garrett


Illustration: Rachelle Baker

II first learned about HIV in health class. I remember it being framed as something that would kill you. I thought anyone who got HIV would quickly die of AIDS-related illness. Magic Johnson’s continued existence confused me.

I was very interested in history, taking all AP classes in the area during high school, but the classes were very obviously taught to the test. We stopped studying in depth around the 1960s, since anything after was less likely to be featured on the test. The AIDS epidemic was never on the test. We didn’t even talk about it.

Just last week, my roommate, another 19-year-old college student, complimented my Silence = Death shirt and asked, “What does it mean?”

“Oh, it’s from ACT UP,” I said. “You know, they were founded during the AIDS crisis in the ’80s?”

“Cool,” she said. “What was that?”

By the time I started researching my book, a YA novel about a girl with HIV, I had some vague ideas about HIV and AIDS. From reading Wikipedia articles about popular figures like Freddie Mercury and Alvin Ailey, I got the sense that the disease targeted…