One woman stood out in the group. She had loved a man who intentionally infected her with the virus. Many of the women were upset by her stupidity. But Linda stood up for the woman. "We all got the virus,''' Linda said. "What does it matter how we got it? We can't give it back. All we can do now is live and help others."

That was Linda Carole Jordan, a former heroin addict, firmly but lovingly admonishing a group of mothers who, as was she, battling against AIDS. It is among the scenes captured in "Crooked Road Straight: The Awakening of AIDS Activist Linda Jordan," a book by prize-winning, veteran journalist Tina A. Brown, culled from 12 years of human interest and investigative reporting.

With the hardscrabble neighborhoods of Hartford, Connecticut, Jordan's hometown, as a backdrop, this nonfiction narrative tracks the second-generation welfare client recipient as she emerges in 1990 as an AIDS activist, arguing that she and others directly affected by the AIDS pandemic were largely ignored in the public health campaigns aimed at preventing AIDS. Jordan, who died in 2006, spent her final years urging her AIDS-affected audiences not to languish in a state of victimhood but to use their firsthand experience as a weapon in battle.

Crooked Road Straight interweaves the voices of Jordan, whose diagnosis was made in 1989, and her relatives; the decades-old case files the Connecticut Department of Children and Families gathered on a

fractious, sometimes self-critical Jordan clan; Brown's meticulous reportage on how African-American women came to comprise a disproportionate, fast-growing segment of the AIDS population; and some remedies for reversing that trend.

Jordan's story is one of faith, survival, redemption and a singular resolve. As she states, with bittersweetness and irony, in Crooked Road Straight: "AIDS saved my life."