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Book: Strangers in Paradise (complete collection)

March 20, 2010
(featuring this cover at full size so you can see the pretty art…)

Earlier this week I finished the entire series of my all-time favorite graphic novel, the acclaimed and beloved Strangers In Paradise. I read my first SiP a long, long time ago, probably at least nine years ago. A friend recommended them to me when she found out I had never read a graphic novel. (I’ve still only read a handful of titles, for some reason. I’m picky.) She said, “This is the PERFECT graphic novel for you to start on.” Boy, was she ever right. She handed me a giant stack, which was probably about the first 1/3 of the story. I got so hooked that I subscribed to another year or two of them, and then one thing led to another and somehow I got out of the habit, only about 2/3 of the way through the entire story.

I’ve been wanting to catch up and find out how it all ended, and my walking partner said that she had the entire series in the collected books and that she would lend them to me!! Of course I jumped at the offer. I considered just figuring out where I left off and reading the last third or so, but I eventually decided to read the entire series again.

Wheee! What an amazing ride! Soooo worth reading all of them, and in one big gulp. I couldn’t stop reading.

The basics of the story is this. There are two high school girls, Francine Peters and Katina Choovanski (“Katchoo” for short). They are best of friends, although they are a study in opposites. Francine is tall, curvy, innocent, pretty, somewhat vulnerable, sometimes not too smart, all empathy and feminine charm. Katchoo is small, wiry, tough, an artist with a hell of a backstory. And she loves Francine with all her heart.

We follow Francine and Katchoo through young adulthood, up through their early 30s. Along the way we meet and fall in love with (or hate) a cast of characters which are just like the friends you wished you always had (or not). There’s love. There’s marriage. There’s death. There’s the mob (with a twist). There’s babies (eventually). And through it all, there’s the big truth that everybody knows, and the big question which leads you through the entire story.

The truth: Katchoo and Francine belong together.
The question: But in what way?

Francine has always dreamed of the perfect husband, the perfect family, the perfect house. All she’s ever wanted to do was make the eventual perfect husband happy. She loves Katchoo, but not in “that way.” Or does she? Can she overcome her upbringing, society, her mother, the church… and figure out what her heart really wants?

All Katchoo wants is Francine. She wants to get away from her terrible past. She wants to make art and be with Francine, and that’s about it. But roadblocks in every conceivable form keep dropping directly in her path. Will she eventually give up on Francine, who cannot seem to make up her mind? Will Life (with a capital “L”) prove to be too much for the world-weary Katchoo? Will she walk away from the love of her life to try and create a life she can live with?

The drama! The heartache! The humor! The incredible art!

This series is flawless and heartwrenching and fun and charming and has a happy, happy ending. Eventually. Oh, that ending was worth waiting for. (I’m not really spoiling anything since we gets hints of it along the way, but HOW it happens is a treat.)

I can’t say enough about this series. It’s like Buffy in it’s magnificence. You think it’s one thing… but it’s really so much deeper and more complex, and has an incredible story arc which sweeps you up and makes you think about all the things in your life.

Read it. Now. (need more convincing? Check out the website, and Wikipedia…)

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