I’m so very excited for today’s interview, as part of the Pride Month Features, with one of the youngest influences—as named by MTV and Vogue—who advocates for diversity in literature. A warm welcome to Camryn Garrett, author of Full Disclosure, who is here to answer some questions during this wonderful Pride month! Her debut novel has won hearts, received critical acclaim, and is a work worth remembering a long, long time. Before I digress by excessively sharing my excitement for this Q&A, let’s begin!
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….
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Q/A with Camryn Garrett
Full Disclosure has been praised by renowned names like Angie Thomas, Tiffany D. Jackson, Sandhya Menon and Becky Albertalli. What do you think is the most promising aspect of this book: the important aim of shining a light on the stigma around HIV, promoting kindness among teens and adults in a society, the romantic-comedy storyline starring LGBTQIA+, or the ownvoices portrayal of a black teen? [Spoiler: Correct answer includes all four.]
Ha, I definitely think all four of them are important.
There are discussions about sex drive, masturbation, safe sex, and physical intimacy in this YA contemporary that many would call ‘bold’ and many have already raised questions around—as you’ve noted on your website. How important is it for more sex-centric narrations to hit the shelves meant for young audiences in order to open conversations around the evident taboo?
I think it’s extremely important to talk about sex in YA books, especially since, at least in the US, a lot of kids aren’t exposed to sex in school or by other adults in their lives. They learn that they should remain abstinent and a lot of times, that’s it. I had so many questions when I was sixteen and loved to talk about my desires and confoundments with my friends at lunch. I wanted this book to offer a similar outlet for teens, especially Black girls, who are often demonized as overly sexual or “fast.”
Entertainment Weekly says Full Disclosure humanizes an unlikely protagonist. The main character is Simone Garcia-Hampton who is a HIV-positive bisexual adopted dark-skinned black teen. How is Simone’s voice and story refreshingly different among the literary pieces that are already aligned with the LGBTQIA+ representation set in or stemming from the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s?
A lot of the stories and narratives I saw about HIV positive teens seemed to have been made a long time ago, so there was a lot of fear about dying and not having a future. While doing research, I saw that there have been so many medical advances made, and what seemed to be more of a pressing issue to me was the stigma (although the fact that medication can remain inaccessible due to price is also a huge problem.) I wanted to write about a girl with HIV who wasn’t afraid of dying and knew she’d have a normal life, but who had to contend with people’s ignorance and outdated ideas instead.
Racial and sexual diversity makes Full Disclosure even more commendable with Simone, the main character, being black and queer questioning; her best friends, Lydia and Claudia, (both are Asians) being bisexual and asexual repsectively; a black love interest, Miles; and gay dads being so wholesome. How does diversity strengthen a teen story that is bound to highly influence the audience?
I honestly wrote the book that way because that’s how my own friend groups are and what I thought would be the most realistic, especially for a girl living in the Bay Area. I think showing an array of people and experiences only strengthens stories and experiences.
You mentioned on Teen Vogue that you wanted to give your marginalized teen protagonist a fun story. Clearly, Simone’s romantic arc with Miles and her friendships are contributors to the fun aspects. And the empowered family she has with two gay dads is pure happiness. How does a writer weave important themes in a story while not taking away the story’s potential to be just funny, romantic, and hopeful?
It’s definitely a balance that we worked on during revisions. That being said, my favorite stories are like these; they have a balance between reality and tension and all the fun and romance.
Time for a fun question! Simone is a lover of musicals (and it’s hard to miss that fact while reading the story) and we would love for her to suggest some musicals that would make the theater nerd within all of us swoon.
Oh, God, Simone loves musicals so much. I think she’d totally recommend Phantom of the Opera for someone’s first time on Broadway, as well as Wicked. I think she’d be pretty into Hadestown right about now; that’s definitely swoony.
This was such a fun chat but before letting you go, everyone needs to know a little bit about your next book scheduled to release in 2021, Off The Record, which promises a teen journalist, a MeToo story, and the themes of justice! Would you like to share something about your next book for all the excited readers?
I’m not sure what I’m allowed to say about it, but the main character is the most similar to me than any other character I’ve written. She’s a teen journalist, which I based off of my experiences writing for Rookie, MTV, and TIME for Kids. It was a lot of fun to revisit a really formative period in my life.
Camryn Garrett was born and raised in New York. When she was thirteen, she was selected as a TIME for Kids reporter, where she interviewed celebrities like Warren Buffett and Kristen Bell. Her writing has appeared in the Huffington Post, MTV, and Rookie Magazine. In 2015, she was named as one of MTV’s 8 Inspiring Teens Using Social Media to Change the World and in 2019, she was named one of Teen Vogue’s 21 Under 21 and a Glamour College Woman of the Year. Camryn is also interested in film and is a student at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She is a proud advocate of diverse stories and writers. You can find her on Twitter @dancingofpens, tweeting from a laptop named Stevie.
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