"I did it," Josh Charkey shouted as his curly, dark hair burst above the waters of Whitefish. "I did eight."
Opening line to Diving for the Moon by Lee Bantle.
One summer at the lake everything changed. For years Carolina Birdsong, known as Bird, has spent her summer vacations at the lake with her family just down the road from her best friend Josh Charkey. The two families spend each summer at Lake Whitefish; the two friends spend all their time together swimming, fishing, playing practical jokes on their older siblings. An idyllic time, until the summer after sixth grade when Josh tells Carolina that he is HIV positive, the result of contaminated blood products--Josh has hemophilia, a dangerous thing to have in the mid-1990's when the book was published, and before effective blood screening was in place.
AIDS is heavy subject matter for any novel, certainly for one aimed at fifth and sixth grade readers. While events never gets as bleak as they could, Mr. Bantle is not known for shying away from his subject matter. (He is the author of David Inside Out which I'll be reviewing here tomorrow.) Diving for the Moon is a frank depiction of life with HIV; Josh has a very serious bout of ill health during the course of the novel, so serious that it frightens Carolina away from his friendship for a time.
Diving for the Moon is a book with a message, something I normally try to avoid in Young Adult literature. The story of Bird and Josh could have easily become After School Special material. To his credit, Mr. Bantle avoids this fate. There is a little bit of informational lecture aimed at young readers who may not know about disease transmission, but just a little. The social messages are so well worked into the plot that readers who aren't English teachers like I am probably won't notice them at all. Bird's friendship with Josh is more important than any fears she may have about his HIV status or about how other people at school will react when they find out. Bird learns this through the example of her neighbors Bill and Elliot, a gay couple, who've lived together for years and who've known Bird ever since she first started coming to the lake. Bill and Elliot are important minor characters, introduced without fanfare. The fact that they are two men in love is just another bit of information rather than something controversial to worry about. Bird can't understand why anyone would care that they are gay and soon comes to see that that should be her attitude towards Josh's HIV as well.
Tomorrow I will be reviewing Mr. Bantle's new book, David Inside Out. Wednesday will feature an interview with Mr. Bantle. I read Diving for the Moon in preparation for the interview; it's not something I would have picked up otherwise. I'm glad I did. Mr. Bantle would like everyone to know that though Diving for the Moon is ten years old at this point, it is still available on Amazon.com.