Skip to main content

September 2, 2014

What would you do if you told your best friend your deepest secret --- and than she told everyone within the hour? That's exactly what happened to Paige Rawl, who divulged her HIV positive status to her friend and soon after was bullied by the entire school with nowhere to turn for help. At 15 she found herself facing a bottle of pills, but pulled herself back, fought the system about bullying laws and has become an inspiration for teens everywhere. Paige tells her story in her new memoir, POSITIVE, and answers some questions in our exclusive Teenreads interview. Read below to learn what she's doing now, the place she considers her second home, her advice for someone who's being bullied and her secret dream job. Looking back, do you wish you never told your best friend your secret? If you had not, how long do you think you could have kept your status quiet?

Paige Rawl:  I would never wish I hadn't told my best friend in sixth grade about my HIV status, because if I hadn’t I wouldn't be where I am today. If I hadn't gone through all of the bullying, then I would've never decided to do something about the way I was being treated and I wouldn't be out here sharing my story and educating others!

TRC: How did the idea for writing POSITIVE come about?

PR:Speaking, sharing my story, advocating against bullying, and educating about HIV/AIDS became something I loved doing as soon as I started doing it, but it wasn't enough for me. I wanted to inspire countless others to share their own story and help all those who have been victims of bullying. So the idea of writing the book POSITIVE come about when I wanted to expand my story and get it out there to even more people!

TRC: You've told your story out loud in schools many times. What, if anything, was the most difficult part of writing it down in book form? 

PR:The most difficult part about writing my story down to make a book was that I had to think about all of the details. Since I had left the middle school I had learned to put those thoughts in the back of my mind, but for the book I had to remember the time and place and what was going on around me and what was happening in my life. I had to remember the feelings. So to sit and think about the bullying incidents was like reliving them, in a way. 

TRC: If you hope readers can get one thing out of reading your book, what would it be?

PR:That no one deserves to be bullied for any reason.

TRC: Do you have any advice for teens who are being bullied in school?

PR:Make sure to go to an adult --- someone who can help --- about the bullying and let them know what is going on. Don’t try to just deal with it on your own. And don’t stop until someone helps you. Also, if you have a friend that decides to leave you because of what the bully says or does, then remember that person wasn’t a true friend. Finally, the people that stay are your true supporters through thick and thin. Always cherish those people.  

TRC: What should bystanders do?

PR:They should make a difference and stand up to the bullies. Find someone and tell them what is happening. It could save someone's life. 

TRC: You talk a lot about Camp Kindle in your book, and how that was such an important experience for you. Can you tell our readers about the camp, and what it meant to you?

PR:Camp Kindle is a camp for kids and teens infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. I first went to camp as a camper and I am now a counselor at the camp to the 7-9 year old girls. The first time I met someone my age that had HIV, or a parent with HIV, was at Camp Kindle. Camp gave me a sense of hope. It let me know that there are other people out there going through what I am and I had to continue to fight and share my story to help and inspire the other campers. I needed to help reduce the stigma towards HIV/AIDS so that the littler campers would feel safe when they are home and not be afraid to share their truth because of how they could be treated. Camp Kindle has become a second home for me and given me a second family. 

TRC: Your “biggest” secret has been divulged. Now that you are a national youth advocate and a confident young woman, what is something that people still don’t know about you?

PR:A lot of people don't know that I have been singing since I was a child. And my favorite thing to sing is country music and secretly I have always wanted to be a country singer!

TRC: What were some of your favorite books and authors when you were a teen? Was reading an escape for you?

PR:THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher was a great book for me when I was a teen. It showed me just how important you are --- without even knowing it, sometimes --- to people around you and what effects suicide can have on the people left behind. I have always had an interest in young adult, romance and fiction books! Reading while listening to music was something that I loved to do when time to myself would help me clear my head. Books were an escape that helped me get through the hard times.

TRC: What’s on tap for you next, besides college? Do you see another book in your future?

PR:I plan to continue to dedicate my life to educating about HIV/AIDS, sharing my story and advocating against bullying. I have thought about writing a children's book series that reflects everything I've been through and how to get through those hard times.

Paige Rawl is an accomplished speaker and an inspirational figure for the tens of thousands of kids to whom she has spoken. Today, Paige is a national youth advocate, antibullying crusader and powerful HIV/AIDS educator. Paige has been featured in multiple national media outlets, including USA Today, People magazine, Seventeen magazine, Nick News with Linda Ellerbee, the Huffington Post, and Poz magazine. Since Paige was eight years old, she has participated enthusiastically in pageants. Most recently, Paige was Miss Indiana Teen Essence 2011 and Miss Indiana High School America 2012. She is currently a student at Ball State University, where she plans to study molecular biology.