Positively by Courtney Sheinmel; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Positively

Author: Courtney Sheinmel

Published: August 31st, 2010

Number of Pages: 240

Rating: 3/5


Since the day Emerson Pressman and her mother were diagnosed as HIV positive, nothing has been the same. When her mother dies of AIDS, Emmy has to go live with the father and stepmother she barely knows, and she feels more alone than ever. Now she has to take pills by herself, and there is no one left who understands what it’s like to be afraid every time she has a cold. But when her father decides to send her to Camp Positive, a camp for HIV-positive children, Emmy begins to realize that she’s not alone after all, and that sometimes, opening up to other people can make all the difference in the world. [From Goodreads]

Quote: Unfortunately, I don’t have access to one right now!


AIDs isn’t a topic I know much about. I’ve never had to deal with it in any form or fashion. It’s amazing how easy it is to distance yourself from difficult problems when they’re not specifically relevant to your life. You almost forget they exist. Such is the case with AIDs. Positively not only reminded me of its existence but made it personal. I’ve heard from multiple sources that people respond more to individuals than statistics. You can hand someone a list of thousands of names and say, “These are starving kids in Africa,” or you can hand them a single picture of a little Africa boy with a distended stomach. Which one will affect the person more?

The only issue in Positively’s case is that I struggled with connecting to the main character’s voice, so the whole “feeling for the individual” thing didn’t work quite as well. Emmy struck me as kind of irritating at times, but that wasn’t the real problem. It was that she was just words and a way of speaking for a while. I couldn’t really wrap my head around who she was. It took a long time before I could grasp onto her, and I believe it only really happened when she started to develop. Also, her voice definitely seemed more middle-grade-oriented, and I can’t help but wonder if this book would fit better there (although I suppose the topic is a bit morbid).

Emmy’s HIV is only a nuisance until her mother gets sick and eventually passes away, and then it’s devastating. It’s this evil, menacing curse that has unfairly been cast on her and her mother, and she can’t fathom why. I think it was Emmy’s rage that I connected to most. She asks tons of questions throughout the book, which got a little old, but it was when she acted on her frustration that I connected with her more. There are scenes when she loses what little self-control she has left. She simply doesn’t care anymore, and she lets loose. I loved that rawness. It gave her character texture.

I was surprised how long it took for Emmy to get to the camp – for the camp to be mentioned, actually – but once she was there, it was evident that some change was about to be made, either to Emmy’s circumstances or her mindset. The tools needed for her to “freshen up her emotions” were there, and I simply needed to sit back and wait for her to use them.

My favorite aspect of the book was seeing how the adults in Emmy’s life dealt with the situation. She’s only thirteen, so they naturally played a large role. Her father, his wife, and Lisa (Emmy’s mother’s best friend) are all wonderful. I knew that from the beginning, but of course Emmy didn’t. Her father was just the man who left her mom. Meg (her stepmom) was just the woman who her father chose to replace her mom with and who failed to show up at her mother’s funeral. Lisa was the only adult Emmy really felt close to. Though Lisa had issues with Emmy’s father’s choice to marry someone else, she never tried to tear Emmy away. I loved that the adults (as they should), overlooked their differences in an effort to supply Emmy with the unity and peace she needed.

The most interesting story was that of Emmy, her father, and her stepmother. Their relationship and ability to be a close family were definitely the most important element in Emmy’s life. Her father is just as confused and devastated by his daughter’s ill opinion of him as you’d expect, and Meg is floundering in her attempt to scrounge up as decent a relationship with Emmy as she can. As you can probably tell, I found the goings on of the adults to be the most riveting part of the story. I was certainly impressed by the way they handled things, particularly any mistakes they made.

While Positively is ultimately a novel about family and strength despite weakness, it’s founded on the best story foundation of all (or the best foundation period): love. It sounds corny. It sounds contrived. But it also sounds a lot like life.

One Commentto “Positively by Courtney Sheinmel; Review”

  1. lovely review! I'm not really sure if this is the type of book for me, I know i've seen it floating around and I've never felt too inclined to pick it up. However, I like the themes you mentioned– like family and love, so I guess if I'm ever in the mood for one of those books, I'll keep this in mind 🙂

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