Full Disclosure Camryn Garrett book coverAnother NetGalley read and one I won back last year – not the oldest one on the pile but I have been trying to pull out the books I have that are a bit more diverse as I work my way through my curiously non-diverse 20 Books of Summer list. This one couldn’t be more diverse, as you’ll see in the review – you can pretty well always trust YA books to be delving into today’s issues and they’ve been doing that since they became a named genre, and this one is no exception.

Camryn Garrett – “Full Disclosure”

(14 August 2019, NetGalley)

First of all, this is the second book I’ve read this year that opens with a Black woman at a gynaecology appointment (the other being “Queenie“. One for Bookish Beck’s coincidences, although I didn’t read them at the same time.

Simone is just your average 17 year old American high school student, obsessed with musicals and busy directing the school play. But she moved to this school when her HIV+ status was disclosed at her last one (via the girl she was seeing who she thought she could trust); now should she tell her two new best friends and the boy she fancies (these two sets of people are given equal status at this point, although one is prioritised over the other later)? Can she trust them? Meanwhile, the only people she knows who really understand are in a pretty cringeworthy group she has been attending at hospital for years (there’s good satire of the well-meaning group leader in these sections). And her two dads are a bit over-protective and have their own issues with family, too, one having split off from his family and the other having a son from his marriage to a woman who pushes against the family narrative of that marriage being a mistake. Their overprotectiveness does however mean that when Simone starts getting anonymous notes threatening to “out” her as positive, she doesn’t tell them.

I really liked the way characters were naturally described rather than labouring over their skin tone or ethnicity (I think I read about that on someone else’s blog or in an article and I’m struggling to think where now – if you recognise that, please let me know). For example, Simon’s friend Lydia is introduced as having a bag featuring “I love Taiwan pins from her trip to visit family last summer”. Lydia also identifies as asexual (or “ace”, which I love), which is not something I’ve encountered in work of fiction before. Certainly although there’s a trope that YA books are known for looking at issues and identity politics, it’s lovely to read something in which so many different people will see themselves reflected (as the three girls attend an LGBTQIA and allies meeting weekly at school, there’s even room for a quick mention of nonbinary identity, which does complete a sort of set of diversity but is acceptable as part of the intent of the book to be inclusive, just like Dr Khan the HIV specialist and her revolving collection of child-friendly hijabs with elephants and other patterns).

Racism and white privilege are addressed naturally: the love interest, Miles, is part of a lacrosse team which is mainly white apart from one Japanese American boy and Miles, and Simone experiences outright harassment when she meets them, although she models a good response to their unsavoury remarks about always having wanted to date a Black woman:

“I’m not a cultural experience for some random white boy,” I say, folding my arms. “And, before you go looking for one, I don’t know any black girl who wants the position”.

Simone seems more used to a more diverse background to her life than Miles does, keener to be among different sorts of people but more nervous when in a majority white environment, definitely not wanting to pretend she’s who she’s not, and I think this aspect could have been developed more in a longer book.

The thing I didn’t like is that Simone basically dumps her friends for her boyfriend, and although they call her out on it very firmly, the issue is somehow magically resolved (after she’s accused them of sending her the notes, which is also pretty bad) because she starts talking about coming out as bisexual. While her friends accept that as a difficult thing, they do seem to forgive her a bit quickly. The denouement of who sent the notes also seems a bit rushed and not foreshadowed in the earlier text, but then this is a fairly short novel with a lot of plot and characters, so it probably isn’t in truth.

The book, alongside its diversity, is very sex-positive, and that’s a great thing for teenagers to be reading about, validating their experiences and desires. So it’s not one to read if you’re not keen on detailed descriptions of teenagers’ sex lives and experimentation, but it’s important for this aspect to be talked about to the actual audience for the book. I would have learned a lot about sexualities, families and race and the experience of people different to me in those aspects if I’d read it aged 17, although 17 year olds are probably a bit more knowledgeable about the world in general these days than 30 years ago!

Thank you to Penguin Random House for selecting me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review.