AIDS in the End Zone

AIDS in the End Zone
Kendra Albright and Karen Gavigan, editors
Sarah Petrulis, illustrator
University of South Carolina

Reviewed by Sally Hessney

AIDS in the End Zone011webUniversity of South Carolina library science professors Kendra Albright and Karen Gavigan collaborated with incarcerated youths at the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice to produce a thirty-one-page graphic novel about HIV and AIDS. Titled AIDS in the End Zone, it features the punchy style and verve of a comic book while conveying weighty information about prevention, testing, and treatment. Albright and Gavigan guided the young men, aged fifteen to nineteen, as they wrote the storyline and dialogue, and illustrator Sarah Petrulis provided the artwork.

Gavigan’s research demonstrates that graphic novels can be used to boost literacy, particularly among teenage boys. Author Jon Scieszka (The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales) points out that boys read less than girls, and they are more likely to call themselves “nonreaders.” Their reading test scores lag behind girls’ scores in every age group, according to the U.S. Department of Education. However, boys can be motivated to read by connecting them with nontraditional reading materials—what Boise State University professor Dr. Jeffrey Wilhelm calls marginalized texts. In a forthcoming book titled Let Them Read Trash, Wilhelm defines marginalized texts as video game novels, vampire books, dystopian fiction, series books, on-line fan fiction, and others. With AIDS in the End Zone, Albright and Gavigan have found an inventive way to capture the interest of teenagers, and to bridge the literacy gap with boys. The book exerts a gravitational pull because it contains visual elements and because it was written by teenaged boys themselves, giving it the edginess and immediacy adolescent readers find appealing. The book is designed to engage so-called reluctant readers and nonreaders who nevertheless persist in reading comic books, manga, graphic novels, and other nontraditional texts.

In AIDS in the End Zone, newcomer Marcus lands a spot as starting quarterback on the varsity football team. Teammate Brad schemes to depose him as star quarterback by setting him up with Maria, who is HIV-positive. This graphic novel, like literature in general, provides a safe space in which teenagers can rehearse what they will do when faced with consequential decisions without suffering the real-life

Left to right: Karen Gavigan (professor/researcher); Sarah Petrulis (illustrator); and Kendra Albright (professor/researcher). Photo courtesy Univ. of South Carolina
Left to right: Karen Gavigan (professor/researcher); Sarah Petrulis (illustrator); and Kendra Albright (professor/researcher). Photo courtesy Univ. of South Carolina

repercussions. Not only do the young men at the DJJ write about the dangers of drinking alcohol and having unprotected sex, they explore universal themes of sex, power, and victimhood. The main characters engage in blackmail, bullying, treachery, and retribution. They face moral choices, personified by a devil on their shoulders—and they live with the life-altering consequences of their actions. This book allows teenagers to safely deal with the fallout from bad choices made by kids just like them.

Public health educators are striving to stop the spread of HIV infections in South Carolina, which ranks eighth in the nation for new cases. Interspersed with facts about condom use and impaired judgment caused by alcohol and drugs, this graphic novel may prove to be instrumental in educating teenagers about the disease. Albright’s research examines the impact of information and education campaigns on lowering HIV/AIDS infection rates among Ugandans. Now, Albright and Gavigan will seek to determine if AIDS in the End Zone succeeds in increasing teenagers’ knowledge and understanding of HIV and AIDS while motivating them to avoid the high-risk behaviors that lead to the spread of HIV and other sexually transmittable diseases. ◊

Sally Hessney is a program assistant at a nonprofit organization, where one of the educational missions is to educate teenagers about the dangers of binge drinking, prescription drug abuse, distracted driving, STDs, and other consequential issues.

Read this article in the May 2013 digital issue by clicking here.