by LeAnne HardyDecember 1 was World AIDS Day. It was also the launch of my new novel for teens and adults, Keeping Secrets. Keeping Secrets is about one of the millions of African young people affected by the HIV and AIDS pandemic.
Thirty-four million people in the world today are living with HIV. Thanks to early efforts at education, only about thirty thousand of those live in Australia, and those are primarily in what are considered high-risk groups. Yet for every person with the virus in the blood steam, weakening the immune system, countless others are affected—parents, children, friends, employers, employees, whole communities losing economic power as wage earners become too ill to work. Anti-retroviral drugs have greatly extended the lives of people living with HIV. Unfortunately, this transition to a “manageable chronic disease” has meant that Australians, like Americans, have grown lax in prevention. Last year’s rate of new infections was the highest it has ever been.
More than two-thirds of people living with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa where I lived for more than fifteen years. As much as 40% of fifteen-to forty-nine-year-olds in some regions are infected. I have heard statistics as high as 70% in localized areas. Grandmothers who expected their grown children to care for them in their old age are instead raising orphaned grandchildren. Children as young as five attempt to care for younger siblings on their own. These are not statistics. They are people like you and me with hopes and dreams like ours.
Keeping Secrets is about a promising South African figure skater who is afraid she will be kicked out of the rink if people find out her father has AIDS. Sindi’s love of skating represents the dreams that can be lost when a family is hit with a disease that still causes shame. But it’s not just a story about HIV. It’s about how easy it is for all of us to cut ourselves off from the very relationships we need because we are afraid that someone might find out the truth about us, the secret we’re trying to hide. We’re so busy preserving our image that we turn away even from those who care. We try to keep skating, we smile for the judges, but sometimes the hurt is too much.
I remember what it was like Before. I flew over the ice like a swallow on the wind. Music filled my whole body, and I soared like a bird above the city of Johannesburg—eGoli—place of gold. I dreamed of gold medals and going to the Olympics someday.
But that was Before.
I was too young to know that life can collapse as fast as a skater can lose an edge and tumble to the ice. It hurts to fall, but you get up; you keep skating. You smile for the judges, and you don’t let them see the pain. That’s what winners do.
But sometimes, the hurt is too much, and you can’t get up. You can’t keep skating.
Then you lose.
LeAnne has kindly offered to give away an ebook copy of Keeping Secrets to a reader who leaves a comment on this post. The winner will be announced in the post comments on Tuesday, 24th December.
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents, most recently in South Africa where she conducted story hours for orphans and vulnerable children and trained as an adult figure skater. Her books for adults and young people use story to communicate truth in a way that touches the heart.