In our Book Reviews & Sips © series, we review books while sipping themed cocktails or mocktails that compliment the book that we are reviewing. In the latest installment of our series, we are digging into our February 2022 Title of the Month, Ruth Coker Burks’ memoir, All The Young Men.
All The Young Men chronicles the time that Burks spent caring and advocating for gay men afflicted with AIDS, starting in the early days of the AIDS pandemic in the early ‘80s. What’s fascinating is that she quite literally stumbled into this work.
While visiting a friend in a hospital, she heard a patient calling out for help, but the nurses ignored the patient’s pleas. Flabbergasted as to why health professionals would willfully neglect those in need, Ruth confronts the nurses. They inform her that the patient is dying from AIDS and the nurses will not risk helping the patient for fear of contracting the disease; meaning the patient is left to die alone and without dignity.
Outraged by the nurses’ cavalier response, Ruth springs into action and consoles the young man as he takes his final breaths. From that day forward, Ruth is known in the Hot Springs, AK community as someone to call on to help AIDS patients when doctors, hospitals, funeral homes and others, refuse to help. What’s even more fascinating is that Ruth has no medical education or expertise. She teaches herself about the disease and researches techniques to use to ease their pain and then later, medication that can be used to alleviate symptoms.
Burks’ time caring for these men, and the unraveling of Ruth’s own life in the process, is sad no doubt. But, Burks laces the story with her smart-ass comments and no-nonsense attitude. It’s those moments that give you a reprieve from the sheer heaviness of the topic. Also, the genuine friendships that she nurtured with these patients–and how she depicted them not as just AIDS patients, but as a fulsome, whole human beings. She tapped into all the parts of a human that makes us–how we feel; how we love; how we hurt. And because of that, she put a face to so many faceless and nameless souls who lost their lives to AIDS.
This memoir chronicled the barriers to Ruth faced in trying to simply get dignity for these men. She helped with everything from obtaining food and housing, arranging funerals and burying victims to coordinating testing and organizing AIDS awareness events. Burks puts her neck out for these men, time and time again, and for that, she is rewarded with deep and lasting friendships with these men and their families.
Burks’ memoir illuminates the shocking parallels between the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and the early days of the AIDS pandemic. For instance, There was a ton that the medical community simply did not understand about how the virus spread, how to treat it and how to contain it. And another important similarity–a scapegoat. Like China, and the Chinese community worldwide served as a scapegoat for why COVID-19 originated and was spreading, gay–and in particular, gay men, were blamed and told that their lifestyle was the reason for the disease.
Ruth telling of her story feels like you are sitting across the table from a friend who is reliving a part of their lives. Though the topic is tough, Ruth’s voice is personable, no-holds barred and at times, snarky. And that’s just the kind of balance that makes this a memorable memoir.
The Chaptr community members thoroughly enjoyed this book, rating it a 4 star read. Want to read with us? Join here.
Each month, we create themed cocktail and mocktail recipes to compliment that month’s read. For All The Young Men, we created Red Room Fresca Mocktail. It is a bold and heartfelt as the experience that Ruth details in her memoir. This Fresca is a refreshing toast to her compassion and willingness to serve those afflicted by HIV and AIDS. In this beverage, berries, lemon and coconut vibrantly commemorate those that she assisted in their final stages of life.
Want to score a FREE digital copy of our themed recipes for All The Young Men? Click here to claim yours!