4 out of 4 stars
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Sometimes something happens and we can't help but let it change our lives forever. That's exactly what happened to A.J. Harrison, a musician in New Jersey, when he learned about a kid in Kokomo, Indiana. This 13-year-old boy, Ryan White, contracted aids from contaminated blood products used to control the hemophilia he was born with. This was back in 1985 when people didn't fully comprehend how AIDS worked, so Ryan wasn't allowed to go to school and was even called hateful slurs I would never repeat just because of his AIDS. When A.J. learned about the situation, he told his wife he absolutely had to do something about it, and she replied: "Go for it."
My Life He Did Touch: An Unlikely Friendship That Caught The Eyes Of The World by A.J. Harrison is a touching recollection of five years of friendship between the author and Ryan. Weighing in at less than 50 pages, it's a short and sweet story. A.J. decided at first that he could put his musical talents to work to help raise money for Ryan and his family, and "A Little Boy's Dream / Ryan's Song" was born. The two became friends over the phone, and it wasn't long before they were hanging out together with A.J. making visits to see him in person as well. But, sadly, while the two of them became great friends and changed each other's lives forever, A.J. is not a miracle worker. Ryan died five years later, but A.J. hasn't forgotten him since.
The thing that surprised me the most about this book is just how well A.J. portrays both the best and worst of humanity. Ryan is a terrific kid, and it's a shame he had to die while he was still so young. He had a loving family and some very good friends (including A.J.), but there were also some absolutely atrocious people in his life as well. One reporter, "off the record", let it be known that Ryan had been referred to as a [very derogatory slur for homosexual that I won't repeat] by the people in Kokomo merely for having AIDS. A.J. lost it and "told the reporter that he could tell the people in Kokomo to go to hell for the way they were treating Ryan and his family." The reporter asked if he could quote him, and A.J. said sure, leading to the headline “A New Jersey Singer and Songwriter Has a Message for the People in Kokomo: Go to Hell.” Some of A.J.'s friends even told him they no longer wanted him around their house after hanging out with Ryan unless he got tested for AIDS, and even then wouldn't guarantee they'd be okay with having him around.
Luckily, A.J. was a man of conviction. He cut those people off and refused to get tested, knowing the media would twist it in an awful way. He stood up to people when they said terrible things but was still able to appreciate the people who said kind things and made donations. He went out of his way to do everything he could for Ryan, even staying in the hospital with him when he could. But best of all, he never once made it seem like he did these things out of pity or obligation. He never tried to use Ryan's sickness for his own fame, and when A.J. included the lyrics to the two songs he wrote for Ryan, he genuinely seemed proud of them. Even now, after reading the book, I don't believe for a second that the songs he wrote, the friendship the two of them shared, or even this book that he's written were inspired in the least by personal gain.
I really enjoyed My Life He Did Touch: An Unlikely Friendship That Caught The Eyes Of The World, and while I'd give it 3.5 stars if I could, I can't bring myself to give it only 3 stars. I didn't find any errors at all, and my only complaint would be the brisk pace throughout the book. I would've liked more depth in the events of the book and more time with A.J. and Ryan, but then that's somewhat fitting for a book about a teenager's life taken from him far too soon. I'm giving the book 4 out of 4 stars, and recommend it to anyone who has AIDS/HIV, knows someone with AIDS/HIV, or enjoys stories about surprising friendships or brave children battling fatal illnesses. The book is safe for any age aside from the slur I mentioned previously.
My Life He Did Touch
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