As someone who grew up during the 80s and 90s, I have several memories of the earlier years of the AIDS epidemic. I still remember the news reports of gay men dying in large numbers, and learning about how HIV is spread—and how it is not. I also remember the death of Freddie Mercury (right before Queen experienced a resurgence in popular culture) and Magic Johnson’s announcement that he was HIV positive. AIDS was such a large part of the cultural discourse when I was a teenager that it’s almost unbelievable that it has faded from popular consciousness the way that it seemingly has.
HIV and AIDS are still very much prevalent in the United States, however, and continue to constitute a serious global public health challenge. Yet behind every statistic of infection and exposure there are people who hope for the best, fear the worst, and love abundantly in the midst of it all.
Originally published in Brazil, Where We Go From Here presents three young gay men whose lives are affected by HIV. Ian is eighteen years old and has just been diagnosed as HIV positive. Victor is also eighteen years old, and while at the same clinic that Ian visits, tests negative for the virus. Victor has been seeing twenty-one-year-old Henrique as of late, who discloses that he is HIV positive and is, in fact, undetectable, meaning that he cannot pass on the virus.
The young men’s paths cross early on and intersect throughout the course of the novel as they learn to live with the virus (Ian), contend yet again with seemingly being rejected because of their status (Henrique), and confront their prejudices and fears (Victor).
Despite its serious subject matter, author Lucas Rocha has given us a young adult novel full of young love, friendship, and laugh-out-loud humor. Each chapter is narrated in first person by one of the three young men, the viewpoint alternating between the three men chapter-by-chapter. The beginning of each chapter also includes an illustration of that chapter’s narrator by artist Marina Esmeraldo. While the book is set in Rio de Janeiro and contains references specific to Brazil, translator Larissa Helena has rendered the text into sharp, accessible, and fast moving prose. This is a novel full of hope, promise, and grace for its main characters, even as they struggle and stumble and don’t always get it right. When they do get it right—especially in a climatic scene precipitated by the vengeful public exposure of one character’s HIV status—it’s beautiful to see.
This book is best suited for youth ages 14 and above. It is not graphic by any means, but does contain references to sexual relationships between young consenting adults. Characters also drink alcohol and smoke, for both of which the legal age of consumption is 18 in Brazil. There are also curse words throughout (in normal ranges, because I would dare say that many teenagers curse, like other people do). HIV yet persists, and it is good to see a young adult book that does not shy away from centering HIV positive young people as whole, developed characters. This is a book about growing up, educating oneself, and owning up to one’s mistakes. It is important that teenagers see this modeled, lest they become adults who refuse to do so.
Title: Where We Go From Here
Written by Lucas Rocha
Illustrations by Marina Esmeraldo
Translated from Portuguese by Larissa Helena
PUSH, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc., 2020
Awards: Global Literature in Libraries Initiative Translated Young Adult Book Prize co-winner, 2021.
Booklist Editors’ Choice: Youth Audio, 2020 (for audiobook version)
Interviews: Listen to author Lucas Rocha describe his motivation for writing the book here.
Translator Lawrence Schimel in conversation with Portuguese translator Larissa Helena talk about translating Where We Go From Here, and Here The Whole Time, co-winners of the GLLI Translated Young Adult Book Prize. Thanks, #WorldKidLit blog, for graciously letting us reproduce this interview here.
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Klem-Marí Cajigas has been with Nashville Public Library since 2012, after more than a decade of academic training in Religious Studies and Ministry. As the Family Literacy Coordinator for Bringing Books to Life!, Nashville Public Library’s award-winning early literacy outreach program, she delivers family literacy workshops to a diverse range of local communities. In recognition of her work, she was named a 2021 Library Journal “Mover and Shaker.” Born in Puerto Rico, Klem-Marí is bilingual, bicultural, and proudly Boricua.