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The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books

The Big Picture, a regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth look at selected new titles and trends. See the archive for selections from previous months.

Winick, Judd Pedro and Me: Friendship, Loss, and What I Learned;written and illus. by Judd Winick. Holt, 2000. 187p
Paper ed. ISBN 0-8050-6403-6   $15.00    Gr. 6-12

Six years is a long time in MTV time and in young people's lives, and many readers may not be familiar with Pedro Zamora, who appeared in the 1994 season of The Real World, became an eloquent and popular example of someone living with HIV, and died within a few months of the show's airing. It won't make much difference to their appreciation of this memoir: Winick, Zamora's roommate on the show and a successful cartoonist, has used the graphic-novel form to affectingly chronicle his friendship with Zamora, his own education about HIV and AIDS, Zamora's worsening illness, and Winick's succeeding his friend as an AIDS education lecturer.

It's a given from the beginning that there's a lot of sadness in here, and this is a loving memoir that goes easy on any warts of its late subject. It's not merely a tearjerking tragedy, however: there are insights into the on-camera life, side stories about Winick's post-show relationship with housemate Pam Ling, and discussion of the positive experiences Winick has had as a result of this connection. Most of all, however, there's the extensive and believable depiction of his friendship with Zamora; the dialogue-heavy nature of the medium brings readers into the middle of their bantering affection (while watching Star Trek: The Next Generation: "What is it with gay men and Beverly Crusher?" "Excuse me?" "You are the third gay man I've heard say Crusher is beautiful." "Tsk. Stereotyping homosexuals. I'm so ashamed." "Yeah, that's me. Nazi." "I suppose you prefer Counselor Troi?" "Well, not to say that Crusher isn't beautiful but yes, for me, Troi has something going on." "Especially the early episodes with those tight outfits of hers"). It's got the authentic ring of young men hanging out and giving each other friendly grief, and it's also effective in demonstrating both their characters (Winick appears as a glib, sometimes brittle quipmeister whose surface humor belies his deep concern) and the friendship that Winick lost when Zamora died.

The graphic narrative isn't a usual one in young people's trade literature. Winick is a natural storyteller in this format, however, and he makes excellent use of its flexibility. When recounting the devastating early death of Zamora's mother, he uses a black background against which is placed small white boxes of text and an image of Mrs. Zamora and two of her children; the image is repeated twice, each time cutting out more of the children and finally ending up with her smiling out alone against a background of darkness. Pedro's deathbed is viewed from above, a tiny square of light amid the dark, with the reader looking down at his bed just as his loved ones do in the picture. The stylized art evinces some manga influence, especially in the tendency towards doe-like eyes, but the images are firmly grounded in reality. The result is a narrative of dignity and extraordinary accessibility that should help pave the way for other graphic novels and nonfiction.

Some of that dignity comes, of course, from the seriousness of the book's topic. We're often trained to shy away from overt messages in literature for young people, but it's earned here: this is a book largely about a man whose message was the focus of his life. The text includes factual information about HIV transmission and truthful accounts of people's lives changed (addenda include relevant organizations and updates on the people in the book); it also includes, in Winick's persona, an example of somebody HIV negative coming to grips with the difference between theory and reality ("I've seen An Early Frost and Philadelphia. The very special episodes of Thirtysomething") when it comes to people with HIV. The MTV connection and visual format will help reassure readers that this isn't a stodgy read, so they'll end up absorbing a fair bit of AIDS education as well as a compelling and moving story. It's a creditable legacy; Zamora would be proud.

-- Deborah Stevenson, Associate Editor

Big Picture Image
September's Bulletin cover illustration by Judd Winick
from Pedro and Me: Friendship, Loss, and What I Learned,
Copyright 2000. Used by permission of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers

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This page was last updated on September 1, 2000.