Uplifting" is not the first word you might expect to hear characterizing the story of an HIV-infected woman, but this debut novel, by Atlanta journalist and playwright Pearl Cleage, is exactly that.
After receiving the dreaded blood-test result, Ava Johnson, a single, middle-aged hair-salon proprietor in Atlanta with a wicked sense of humor, returns to her hometown in Idlewild, Mich., for what she intends as a short family visit before moving on to San Francisco. But her widowed older sister Joyce, an indefatigable social worker, needs Ava's help in battling local church opposition to educating teenagers about birth control and AIDS prevention—a subplot that gets a little contrived and overblown. And then there's Eddie Jefferson, that lovely man around the way with the soft dreads and kind words: Ava soon realizes she has found love too late. But what Eddie knows and Ava learns is that if you've been on the planet for any amount of time, you've made mistakes, and they are part of what makes you lovable. It's a lesson—delivered with a deft and joyful touch—we should all be so lucky to learn. (Avon, $20)