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Pedro and Me: Friendship, Loss, and What I Learned. By Judd Winick. New York: Henry Holt, 2000. 187p. $ . ISBN 0-8050-6403-6.

Biography; gay and lesbian nonfiction

Adults, teens, older kids; adult situations, swearing

Pedro and Me is Judd Winick's tribute to his extraordinary friend Pedro Zamora, as well as his own story of personal growth. Pedro was a young, gay, HIV-positive Cuban American who spent his time educating people about the disease. Judd was a young, struggling Jewish cartoonist. Both applied to be on MTV's reality show, The Real World, and both were accepted for the San Francisco house. Chance put them in the same bedroom, where they became good friends. The book chronicles their friendship (which grew to encompass housemates Pam and Cory), Pedro's work, his love affair and commitment ceremony with Sean (also HIV-positive), Pedro's various illnesses, how Judd and Pam coped and helped Pedro cope, how Judd stepped in to replace Pedro when Pedro became too sick to continue his education work, and what happened after the show ended and Pedro developed full-blown AIDS.

The book concludes with a lengthy section of acknowledgments; updates on Pedro's family, his friend Alex, Sean, Pam, and Judd; and donation-accepting AIDS-related organizations, including several in memory of Pedro.

This is one of the most affecting books of any type that I've ever read. Hell, I can't even page through it without puddling up, and reading the whole thing means a sure trip to the Kleenex box. Winick does a masterful job of bringing Pedro to life, fleshing out this amazing, charismatic personality, from his tremendous sense of social responsibility to his impish sense of humor. You really care about Pedro, and you really feel his and his friends' pain when he begins to deterioriate. Yet you also see how he was at his best, how much of an influence he could be, not only on the people he educated but also on the people around him. You also have to like how Winick described himself and his reactions and beliefs when he found that he was going to be living with an HIV-positive roommate. "Of course I'd be fine. I'm LIBERAL BOY and had decided that I was okay with this. Problem? Not me. I'm okay with this.... Well, I wasn't okay. In truth, I was terribly uninformed...."

The biography is told in a series of linear chunks arranged in what can only be described as literary order; for example, his own early life is followed by Pedro's early life, followed by the day they moved into the Real World house, followed by "The Little Things," which deals with such day-to-day events as watching Star Trek together, noticing Pedro's hairy feet, and eating fettuccine alfredo. But the arrangement seems appropriate; I never had any trouble following the story or the logic behind it. (Winick credits Pedro with teaching him how to tell a story.)

Of course, the book has a measure of AIDS education material, concentrated mostly in the sections where Pedro or Judd lectures to audiences, or when Pedro talked about casual contact with Judd when they began to room together.

Winick does not devote much time to the circumstances of their life in the Real World house--that is, he doesn't frame each panel with cameras and lights, and he reports conversations as if they took place in the normal atmosphere of a communal house. He also focuses mostly on himself, Pedro, and Pam, with a few mentions of Cory and almost nothing on the other participants, which might be disappointing to fans of those people. (When I described this book to a friend who had seen the show, she immediately asked if Winick had mentioned Rachel and was surprised that she played such a minimal role in the book.)

The black-and-white art is just a little cartoony, mostly in the faces when they express surprise or happiness; otherwise, it's fairly realistic, with very clean lines. Most of the images are straightforward, though Winick does a few interesting things with squares, either in a grid or overlapping in a collage. He depicts conversational pauses and crowd scenes well. And I like the way he usually breaks text up into short chunks of two or three sentences, making it easy to read the pictures and the text at the same time. He's got a good sense of pacing.

Pedro speaks about his condition at his high school

Copyright 2000, Judd Winick

An outstanding book in many ways, Pedro and Me was an instant classic when it came out last year and is already considered one of the great comics-format biographies and autobiographies. I heartily endorse this classification. It's a very sad book, but it's also a very positive one, with a terrific message that rarely comes off as preachy. Most highly recommended for adults, teens, and older kids. The frank talk about safe sex may be offputting to conservatives, but who cares what they think if the book saves lives. Information is power--and information is protection.


Copyright 2001, D. Aviva Rothschild


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