Spoiler alert! This review reveals significant plot details.
Um, wow. Full Disclosure caught me by surprise. I was doing a library run, and after hearing this book hyped on Twitter I checked on a lark to see if my library had a copy—not expecting one, because it was so freshly published. Yet my library did have a copy, and I borrowed it, and I read it, and this book is quality. I was expecting to like the book, but honestly, I loved it. Camryn Garrett is brave and bold in her characterization and plot, and while not all of her narrative decisions pay off, the overall result is an interesting and emotionally complex novel that leaves me so satisfied yet simultaneously wanting more.
Also, my friends: ace rep!! More on that in a bit.
Simone Garcia-Hampton is a high school student whose two dads are fiercely protective of her—because she is HIV positive. This makes a lot of stuff, like figuring out how to become sexually active, more complicated! Simone has finally found some friends at her new school—she left her old one because word spread and she was bullied and stigmatized—and now there’s a love interest, Miles, on the horizon. But then anonymous notes show up threatening to expose Simone’s secret if she doesn’t stop pursuing Miles. Life is complicated enough for any high school student, let alone someone in Simone’s position.
I love the narration and Simone’s voice. I love how quickly Garrett slides us into different facets of Simone’s life, from the routine medical appointments to her conversations with her parents and her friends. Garrett wastes no time establishing each character with distinctive personality traits. Simone’s Dad is a somewhat reserved doctor who maybe takes things a bit too seriously; her Pops, on the other hand, seems more laid back and easygoing, but he has that kind of subtle seriousness to him characteristic of most positively-portrayed English teachers in YA novels. Simone’s best friend Claudia is sardonic and says what’s on her mind; her other best friend Lydia, while also opinionated, tends to avoid confrontation. And we learn quite a bit about these characters, as well as some of the others in this book—there are few stock or shallow characters in Full Disclosure.
I have to say I was surprised, in a heartwarming way, when I learned Claudia is asexual (actual, on-page rep). She’s an ace lesbian, actually; she has a girlfriend but isn’t sexually attracted to her. This is not Claudia’s book, of course, but since I’m also asexual I want to spend some time discussing this representation (although, obviously, I’m not a lesbian and can’t speak to that part of the characterization). I like how Garrett portrays Claudia as sex-positive while not particularly interested in sex herself. At one point, she mentions going down on her girlfriend because her girlfriend appreciates it, but Claudia herself doesn’t want the act reciprocated. In this way, despite Claudia being a side character, Garrett still manages to portray that asexuality is, like any other orientation, a complex identity. Being asexual doesn’t preclude having a girlfriend or even having sex, should one choose those things.
Although I’m aromantic and also have no desire to have a partner, I do see a little bit of myself in Claudia. We are both very sex-positive people despite not wanting to have sex ourselves: Claudia is relentlessly cheerful and positive about Simone expressing herself sexually (“I’d have sex with you, if I were into it. You’re awesome!” is the first hint we have towards Claudia’s asexuality before the word is actually used a few chapters later). She suggests the three of them use fake IDs to get into a sex store to buy vibrators. She is there for the immense amount of dirty talk that happens in this novel (oh, yeah, trigger warning for that by the way). Like Claudia, I am not personally DTF, but I am down to talk to my friends about sex, to cheerlead them if they need it, to offer them what support I can, because I want them to be happy. And also, I find it fascinating in an incredulous sort of way (I still have a hard time believing anyone actually wants or likes to have sex).
There’s also a great moment when Simone is lamenting the complexity of navigating her sexual attraction to Miles, and she remarks, “I wish I were ace,” to which Claudia seriously replies, “Girl, it has its own problems…. You don’t know how many talks Emma and I have about it.” I appreciate that Garrett acknowledges this struggle in a passing way, that she has Claudia push back on a thoughtless comment from Simone, and then they move on.
Claudia and Lydia are great characters too because they are realistic best friends for Simone. They handle her revelation that she is HIV positive quite well, yet also with about as much awkwardness as one might expect—she definitely feels a little uncomfortable with how they phrase their questions, and that’s understandable. Similarly, when they confront Simone about how she has been blowing them and the GSA meetings off to hang with Miles, there is so much tension in the air. Claudia and Simone both act unfairly towards each other in the heat of the moment—and I do so appreciate when the author is not afraid to create actual conflict between best friends. Friendship isn’t about always getting along no matter what: friendship is about screwing up because we care about each other, and then having the strength to get over ourselves and apologize when we’re in the wrong. Garrett writes strong friendships.
Claudia is ace and Lydia is bi. Simone isn’t sure what she is: she is questioning for most of the novel, kind of settling on bi as an accurate description so far of her experiences, although she isn’t sure that her one experience with a girl at her previous school “counts.” For this reason, she has trepidation about identifying as queer within the gay-straight alliance, and because she’s hiding this from her friends for much of the book, that contributes to some of the tension.
Honestly the whole romance between Simone and Miles didn’t do much for me, so I won’t spend much time critiquing it. Miles himself is one of the less interesting characters, in my opinion. He seems like a super nice guy, and Simone (and all the readers of this book who are attracted to guys) deserves a super nice guy. I love that he embraces Simone’s revelation about being HIV positive and becomes a fierce ally for her. Full Disclosure is full of surprises and twists, but they are seldom the surprises or twists that you see coming—for example, I wasn’t expecting her support group to become such big characters as they do, yet here we are.
The whole blackmail plot? I did guess the identity of the blackmailer fairly early in the book (it’s always the nicest, most extraneous character). And I was disappointed for the reason behind it … or maybe it was more the resolution? Honestly, if I’m going to be critical of Full Disclosure it’s that the last act of the book feels rushed and strives to hit a lot of perfunctory notes as it barrels from climax to denouement much like the musicals it references here. I like the ending; I like that it’s a happy ending yet also a very ambiguous one in many ways (we don’t really get to learn what happens with Simone and Miles). Yet I’m a little dissatisfied by how quickly we get there.
Ms. Klein is a good example of that—there’s a moment where it seems like she’s going to reveal some genuine humanity and extend a comforting hand to Simone in a time of need. And then, nope, she’s just a garbage person still. Which, fair: some people are like that. But then Mr. Palumbo pops out of nowhere to berate Ms. Klein for her behaviour, and it’s all a little too convenient. Full Disclosure is a book where good deeds are rewarded and the bad guys are clearly identified and punished, and while I am all in favour of happy endings for queer people … I also don’t want my narratives wrapped up in a neat and tidy bow. There needs to be a little bit of ambiguity, and it’s not always present in this book.
There’s a few other things I could get into if I wanted to—I haven’t even really touched on race, on the fact that Simone is a dark-skinned Black woman from a mixed household, and how this lens affects her experience as a queer/questioning HIV-positive teenager. It’s complex. Garrett does a great job exploring the intersectionality here, and perhaps what I love the most about this book is that it demonstrates how enjoyable YA can become when we remove the unspoken normalization of white people. There aren’t that many prominent white characters in this book, and honestly, I think that’s a good thing. I also like that, although racism is obviously present and accounted for in Simone’s experiences herein, it’s often quite subtle. It’s often what the narrative doesn’t say that matters more. As a white man, of course, I’m sure there’s a lot that went over my head as a result of my privileged experience—but if I try to read between the lines, I can just about glimpse interactions that I suspect will have younger, Black readers nodding their heads in agreement.
In the end, Full Disclosure’s plot leaves a little to be desired. Then again, this is Garrett’s first published novel. I’m not here to say it’s “amazing considering she’s only 19”—Full Disclosure would be amazing regardless of its author’s age. This is a book that tackles important issues, including one I’ve never read about—I couldn’t tell you the last YA novel I read about an HIV positive protagonist—and it attempts to do so with an eye towards inclusive, multi-dimensional representation of various identities, and characters who can make mistakes and forgive each other. All of this makes for a very satisfying experience and a highly recommended read.