All the Young Men

Grove: Atlantic. Dec. 2020. 304p. ISBN 9780802157249. $26. BIOG
While visiting a hospitalized friend, single mom Burks became curious about a room that none of the nurses wanted to approach. When told it belonged to a young man with AIDS, Burks entered the room and held the man’s hand until he died, then arranged for his cremation and placed his remains in her family’s cemetery when his own family refused to claim him. That act began a years-long mission of compassion as word of mouth led to Burks becoming the go-to support for AIDS patients in and around Hot Springs, AR. From 1984 until the mid-1990s, Burks used her own resources to care for hundreds of people during their illness, providing assistance, advocacy, and friendship and working with the area’s gay community to prevent the spread of the disease, committed to her mission in spite of ostracism and harassment. This is a powerful memoir, cowritten with author O’Leary, about personal responsibility and the too easily forgotten beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Burks’s spirited, straightforward prose balances the heartbreak of her story with just enough humor and toughness.
VERDICT A must-read for anyone interested in narratives of front-line responses to the early AIDS crisis as well as personal accounts of kindness and determination.
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