Standing Strong is the perfect title for Diane Reeve’s moving memoir about acquiring HIV/AIDS from a long term partner who willfully transmitted the virus to many people. Reeve is still standing despite the devastation of finding out her significant other was cheating on her during their entire relationship. She is still standing despite receiving an HIV/AIDS diagnosis, which was later proven to be transmitted by this guy. Reeve was able to draw from her own innate strengths and gather together many of the women who acquired the virus from him. As a group, they stood strong together and charged this man criminally, endured the trial, and celebrated their win when he was convicted. (Not a spoiler—his conviction is noted on the book’s cover.)

I’ve had Standing Strong on my digital shelf for several months, but thought it would be a tough emotional read, which made me put it off. I’m glad I waited until the #MeToo movement began, and the concept of rape culture began to be discussed in the mainstream media. While the women in this book willingly had sex with this man, his intentions were the same as a rapist.

Okay, I can’t get inside his head, but he had to know what he was doing and the book will explain why that’s the case. His awareness of the “deadly weapon” in his pants is exactly why he was convicted. By the way, I honestly don’t want to name him because the book is about Reeve and the women she banded together with. Read the book or Google her name for the media accounts.

Reeve is a Hall-of-Fame martial artist, teacher, and studio owner. It’s clear from her story that she’s, as she says, “a badass bitch.” Instead of turning inwards at her moment of greatest life crisis, she started looking for her sister victims. And then together they turned the tables on the man who transmitted the disease and pursued him in the justice system. They helped gather evidence. They found more sisters for the “club no one wants to join,” and those new members were added to the strength of the criminal case. They cried, hugged, drank margaritas, and ultimately won their case.

Then Reeve decided that telling her story (some sisters joined in this too) would benefit other women. Advocacy and education are the purpose of this book, and I couldn’t admire Reeve more for putting it all out there. She bravely bares her soul in excruciating detail, but she doesn’t stop there. The last chapter of book is a list of what Reeve really learned, and also includes many resources online to education and assist people in staying safe or getting treatment. The statistics are jaw-dropping.

“In a 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, two researchers broke down how new infections are transmitted:
30% are transmitted by people who don’t know they have HIV
61% are transmitted by people who know they have HIV and are not in medical care
6% are transmitted by people who know they have HIV and are in medical care, but are not virally suppressed
2.5% are transmitted by those who are virally suppressed.
The majority of cases are transmitted by people who know they have it and are not being treated for it. It’s not a lunatic fringe. It’s not the outliers. It’s the majority.”
(The final book may have a slightly different version of this quote, but I thought it was too important not to quote.)

I hope you’ll consider tracking Reeve’s book down and reading it, especially if you are a sexually active women not currently in a monogamous relationship. But everyone should read this cautionary tale and learn from the heartbreaking yet inspiring story of strength from adversity. It’s powerful!

Thanks to NetGalley, HCI Books, and the author for the opportunity to read the digital ARC in exchange for this honest review.