Behind the Book

Behind the Book with Courtney Sheinmel

I started working on this book nearly nineteen years ago—I just didn’t know it at the time.

In February of 1991, when I was thirteen years old, I read an article in People Magazine about a woman named Elizabeth Glaser. She was infected with HIV and had unknowingly passed the virus onto her two children. Her daughter died in 1988, at the age of seven. Elizabeth was determined to save the life of her then four-year-old son, Jake. She and two of her closest friends created the Pediatric AIDS Foundation. 

I was struck by how remarkably hopeful Elizabeth’s story was in the face of such tragedy, and I decided I wanted to be part of her work. I began by sending monthly donations from my babysitting money. Even though I could only afford to send ten dollars a month, I always received a thank-you note from the Foundation, and I felt like even my small donations were making a difference. 

Over the years, my involvement with the organization grew. I got to know Elizabeth, along with a number of men, women and children living with HIV and AIDS. They were just regular people who never imagined their lives would include such a harrowing life-or-death struggle. Sometimes I wondered how I would handle being thrust into that situation—particularly as a young kid.  

And, finally, I wrote it down. Positively is about a thirteen-year-old girl named Emerson who is a lot like I was at that age: She’s sentimental about books and photographs. She is loyal to her friends and family but holds grudges when she gets hurt. She can be impulsive, and even screams and throws things when she doesn’t know what else to do. Emerson’s parents divorced when she was young, just like mine did.  But unlike me, Emerson is HIV-positive. Grieving after her mother dies of AIDS, she is sent to a camp for kids infected with the disease, where she finds hope and the will to live, even in a world without her mother.

Elizabeth Glaser died in 1994, and Jake—the boy she started the Foundation to save—says that one of the most important things she left us with was a story. Stories have the power to change your life. Elizabeth’s story certainly changed mine. I would never have imagined, all those years ago, that working with the Foundation would be one of the most longstanding commitments of my life, and that one day I would write my own story about someone with HIV. I hope it is something that would make Elizabeth proud. I am proud beyond words to have known her.

For more information about the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, please visit