Full Disclosure is a sensitive, much-needed exploration of teen sexuality that comes wrapped in an immature high-school drama narrative. A highly mixed bag from a promising new author.
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
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…
Full Disclosure was very hard to rate.
It seems like a 4 or 5 star book wrapped in a 1 or 2 star book. I guess that evens out to three? My review policy says:
I rate with the assumption that most books in the world will be three stars. Three stars can mean “fine–some good some bad” or “well-written but not to my taste” or “very strong but with harmful elements or major problems.” There’s nothing wrong with three stars… but there’s nothing particularly good about it either.
So I guess that makes sense. Full Disclosure was very strong but had some major problems. By the time I finished, I almost felt like I’d read two books: one, a sensitive and powerful exploration of emerging sexuality complicated by HIV status, the other, an immature, cliched high-school drama with flat characters,
Let’s start with the good (the positive reviews aren’t wrong).
This book has plenty of five-star raves on Goodreads, and I can’t really argue with them. The blurb promises a “powerful and uplifting” story where “an HIV-positive teen must navigate fear, disclosure, and radical self-acceptance when she falls in love–and lust–for the first time.” We definitely get that.
Full Disclosure might be my new go-to recommendation for readers looking for sex-positivity and thoughtful exploration of sexuality in YA. It’s got shame-free discussions of female desire and masturbation. Teen characters talk frankly about preferences, new experiences, fears, wants, and questions. Along with Simone, we visit a gynecologists’ office, a free birth-control clinic, and a sex shop, which
I will say that the book veers from sex-positive into sex-insistent at times. While Simone’s conservative father emphasizes abstinence, the teen characters (and the book itself) never seem to consider that a real option. For Simone, it is obvious that she’d be having sex as soon as she’s medically able. Her asexual friend is clear about not wanting sex, but assumes that not engaging in it isn’t an option in her relationship. Full Disclosure goes a little farther than “teens do have sex” to “teens necessarily have sex.” I don’t think “sex-positive” sufficiently describes that point of view. I think that’s okay–no book should be expected to include all perspectives–but it’s important to note that this isn’t the only approach out there.
But this isn’t simply a book about sexual exploration; that story exists in the context of Simone’s HIV-positive status. Garrett brilliantly places those two qualities in juxtaposition: Simone is sexually maturing and entering into a serious relationship, and Simone is HIV-positive. What do those two facts mean together? Full Disclosure is about the ways that Simone’s status changes,
And if all that weren’t enough, Garrett brings an intersectional eye to her character. Simone’s sexuality is complicated by her HIV status, which is also complicated by her race, sexual orientation, and family background. Garret never tries to write The Book About HIV Teens because she’s too busy being ultra-specific about what HIV means for this teen with these identities.
Unfortunately, this great book about sexuality is wrapped in a terrible book about high-school society.
In her wonderful Author’s Note at the front of the book, Garret says it was important to her to show Simone’s life was more than her marginalizations. She wanted to give Simone experiences “that wouldn’t have been possible for an HIV-positive girl in the /80s” and show her enjoying life.
I think that’s a very worthy goal, but I think Garrett misses in the execution.
The poignancy of the HIV narrative is deflated by the excessively on-the-nose choice to have Simone be student director of a high-school production of Rent. When Simone “saves” the production by inspiring emotional performances with dramatic speeches about the AIDS crisis, it takes all the depth out of the rest of the narrative.
Likewise, Simone’s fears about keeping her status secret is a nuanced, human story… until it’s concretized by blackmail through anonymous notes. At that point, a sensitive portrayal of inner conflict becomes the B-story on an episode of Riverdale.
I wish the perspective was a little more mature. Simone’s voice feels wonderfully natural and young, but her perspective isn’t balanced or challenged by the world of the story. Simone is never wrong. The book is a series of encounters with lesser humans who treat Simone unfairly. This is a problem not only because that makes for a poor character, but because Simone actually is wrong sometimes.
In the only moment when Simone is truly confronted with her mistakes, her friends are upset with her for blowing them off, being dishonest, and taking them for granted. Simone responds by (and there’s no other way to put this) playing the identity card. She says she’s been struggling to label her sexual orientation. This has nothing to do with the issue at hand (Simone being a bad friend) but it immediately ends the conversation. Her friends fall over themselves to apologize and comfort her, and the issue is put to rest.
If Simone is to be more than her marginalizations, she also has to be more than just a victim. Garret’s reluctance to ever let Simone realize a mistake or feel
The rest of the cast doesn’t help. Simone’s antagonists are either cartoon-villains of adults or highly problematic renditions of the gay-villain trope. Simone has some immaturities–she’s still learning that other people are people. And that’s wonderfully realistic for a teen character, but the book seems to share that perspective. In the world of Full Disclosure, Simone is the only real person.
All told, Full Disclosure feels like a first-draft story.
The blackmail storyline, the Rent production setting, the boilerplate romance… it all felt like the first draft of what the plot for Simone’s character should be. I’m not sure it’s the best choice to bring out the themes Garret is going for.
In the marketing for, Full Disclosure, we see another example of the author still being a teen being touted as a good thing. It’s certainly an impressive achievement for that author–I’d be shouting it from the rooftops–but it’s not necessarily a selling point for the book. The fresh teen perspective comes with a lack of experience and maturity; that’s a double-edged sword. It certainly is for Full Disclosure, where the prose is lovely but the dialogue is painfully juvenile.
The book has intense raw emotion, yes, but doesn’t look at a big enough picture to have any context or perspective. The writing is poetic but immature, and the supporting characters are cardboard-cutouts of baseless evil. That’s all perfectly understandable coming from a teen debut.
If a 19-year-old friend dropped this manuscript on my desk, I’d be so excited for them. It would show me raw talent, bravery, and a keen eye for metaphor. I’d tell them, honestly, that I thought they had tremendous talent and should keep
writing,because their next book is going to be something special. But I would never tell them to try to get that manuscript published as-is. It just isn’t ready.“
Thank you to Knopf Books for Young R