All the young men: How one woman risked it all to care for the dying by Ruth Coker Burks and Kevin Carr O'Leary

cover image

Hachette, 2020. ISBN: 9781409189114.
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Ruth describes this book as a memoir of love, AIDS and chosen family in the American South. The reader will find this book is about genuine human kindness and selfless compassion.
Ruth's life takes an unexpected turn one day when visiting her friend, Bonnie, who is in hospital for cancer treatment. Observing nursing staff reluctant to care for a patient calling for help, Ruth takes action to support a young man as he takes his last breath. This happened in Hot Springs when the AIDS epidemic had heightened fears and homophobia in the general public. Misinformation about ways the disease was contracted marginalised sufferers, and those who supported them.
The reader comes to understand more about Ruth, her daughter Allison and her ex-husband. Ruth has a complex history that forged an enduring resilience and positivity that drove Ruth to create innovative ways to assist and protect AIDS sufferers. As news of her special qualities spread, the numbers she supported swelled to being in the hundreds.
Ruth describes herself as a regular person, however the depth of her compassion and her capacity to create connections/relationships in order to advocate for the young men sets her apart from a regular person. Because of that, this book is difficult to put down and the reader is moved to tears and/or anger as Ruth describes the behaviours of families, medical professionals, religious leaders and community members along with the ways the public health system failed to take the epidemic seriously. Ruth's selfless love for others, combined with a persistence and willingness to take calculated risks meant the world to the young men abandoned by everyone else and that makes this is an important book for today.
Ruth continues to advocate for the LGBTQ community and decided to write this memoir following the sharing of an unauthorised film about her work. Themes: Relationships (family, friends), Homophobia, AIDS, Religion, Ethics (medical).
Linda Guthrie