Blue Pills: A Positive Love Story
by Frederick Peeters (Houghton Mifflin, 2008)

Frederick Peeters, one of Europe's most acclaimed graphic artists, has an interesting story most people would be grateful not to have to share: the woman he loves and her 3-year-old son are living with HIV. And his graphic representation of that relationship, Blue Pills: A Positive Love Story, is exactly what its title claims. Though AIDS remains taboo in this modern world, the message that resonates within is simple but true: what sees us through the worst of anything is love.

One night, Frederick meets Cati, an attractive young girl, at a party. Years later, they meet again, and their connection is a powerful one. But Cati's life is drastically different than when they first met. She and her young son are now living with HIV.

As their story unfolds, Blue Pills could easily have become a shallow, button-pushing soap opera about getting screwed by a disease that seems to have an almost superhuman ability to mutate and destroy anything in its path. But Peeters handles his subject matter gracefully, focusing on the delicate unfolding of trust between himself and Cati and, as the relationship progresses, with her young son, whose world is so fascinating to Fred.

AIDS can turn any subject it touches into some kind of sexual morality play. Peeters leaves melodrama and judging by the side of the road. His exquisite character sketches are as delicate and evocative as his art. Cati's fears for her little boy are wrenching, and the life of a boy too young to understand the trips to the hospital and the awful tasting medicines he needs in order to survive is absolutely gut wrenching. These people are not rebels or crusaders, but nor are they helpless and victimized. Their dignity lies in their honesty and their complete refusal to live not inside their fear, but with it.

The art is as mesmerizing as it is layered. From his first meeting with Cati to his vision quest-style "meeting" with a white rhinoceros, with whom he engages in a type of Socratic dialogue, Peeters makes every frame believable.

My only complaint with the book is that is seemed almost cut off at the end. It was an exhaustive effort for Peeters, who states at the end he felt bled dry by the effort of putting together the story. Beautiful as it is, Blue Pills doesn't feel 100 percent complete, as though a wrap-up chapter tying all the emotional threads together is somehow missing.

Additionally, some of the concepts in the book might be a little too advanced for some. I would recommend this book for someone who is further down the road in terms of living with HIV and can understand the heavy-duty philosophical concepts contained therein. Blue Pills is not by any means a primer for learning how to live with the disease; rather, it is for those who already live with it and have had time to absorb and understand the incredibly complex world-within-a-world that is HIV.

Still, this quirky, sweet, lyrical story is as fantastic as it is sympathetic and absorbing, and deserved every honor heaped upon it. It's a bit of a fairy tale, albeit a very modern one: at the end of the day, love truly does conquer all.

review by
Mary Harvey

30 August 2008

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