Author:Romeo, Lisa
Position:Book review

Shelby Smoak (author); BLEEDER; Michigan State University Press (Nonfiction: Autobiography & Memoir) 22.95 ISBN: 9781611860696

Byline: Lisa Romeo

Chances are, even the most enthusiastic readers of memoir are not on the hunt for a coming-of-age account of a college boy coping with the dual trials of hemophilia and an HIV-positive status in the 1990s. Such a book could be passed over with the thought that it may be heartbreaking or just plain difficult, which would be a shame. Although Bleeder is those things in some measure in some places, it is also insistent and earnest in a good way; an engaging story illustrating an awful reality.

Bleeder is compelling, well written, and nuanced. Here is a recognizable narrator worth spending time with through all the things that separate us from his reality. A true fellow traveler working, and sometimes failing, but always remaining hopeful to meet what life has in store. Shelby Smoak is a poet at heart and in practice, and he uses his considerable literary skills to pull a reader in tight. Once there, we root for him, rail against the odds and the limits of medicine, and share in the hope that permeates every page.

Smoak was diagnosed with hemophilia as a small child, and though he contracted HIV sometime in his preteen years, before the AIDS crisis changed the way blood products are screened, he didn't learn of his HIV-positive status until his eighteenth birthday, in 1990. Determined to experience life on somewhat normal terms, he attends college, holds summer jobs, dates, graduates, and begins working -- but all...

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