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Hey, Kiddo

Review

Hey, Kiddo

Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s memoir begins with the love story of his grandparents, Joe and Shirley. High school sweethearts, the pair went on to marry after Joe returned from his WWII tour of the Pacific. They had five children and despite some early losses and challenges, the family seemed healthy, happy and successful. And, while it is true the Krosoczka family had a lot of love, a thread of sorrow existed as well, mostly connected to Leslie Krosoczka’s drug addiction. Leslie was the second born of Joe and Shirley’s children and author Jarrett’s mother.

HEY, KIDDO is a graphic novel that presents Jarrett’s childhood, raised by his grandparents, with and without his mother present. That Krosoczka chose to write his memoir as a graphic novel makes perfect sense. Art, and drawing in particular, we learn, has been his passion and therapy since he was little and it was a mode of expression he shared with his mother even when she shared very little else with her.

"As a coming of age story...HEY, KIDDO is fantastic. As a graphic novel, HEY, KIDDO is visually rich and accessible, the images as tender and real as the narrative."

Leslie became pregnant when she was quite young, and Shirley met the news with anger. For the first few years all was well with Leslie and Jarrett in the house Joe bought for them. But mixed in with Krosoczka’s memories of fun with Leslie are memories of strangers coming and going and his mother’s quick temper. He also began to have recurring nightmares. When Leslie is sent to prison, Jarrett goes to live with his grandparents, his grandfather Joe becoming his legal guardian. With his grandparents, Jarrett finds the safety and security that he never had with his mother. However, he never stops missing his mother and over the years he grows increasingly curious about his the identity of his father, whose name he didn’t learn until he was in high school.

Krosoczka shares much pain in HEY, KIDDO, pain caused by his mother’s addiction, by his father’s absence, by the complicated emotional relationships within his family and by the knowledge that his grandparents would not be around forever. As a coming of age story, and one about a childhood of both struggle and creativity, obstacles and joys, HEY, KIDDO is fantastic. As a graphic novel, HEY, KIDDO is visually rich and accessible, the images as tender and real as the narrative.

Krosoczka’s style (familiar to some from his LUNCH LADY series) is comprised of bold and loose black lines, with few details and a watercolor washed background. Occasionally some pages are quite dark and fully shaded indicating an especially emotional or tense moment. The only color used in HEY, KIDDO is a deep orange and Krosoczka explains this choice, as well as much about his artistic direction and editorial decisions, in a detailed note at the end of the book. The memoir is also sprinkled with actual images he created growing up and letters between him and his mother, adding another layer of poignancy and immediacy.

HEY, KIDDO starts with love and ends with love. Though this honest and moving examination of complicated feelings and sad events, Krosoczka is a gentle and steady guide. While this is Krosoczka’s story, it is also a lovely tribute to the grandparents who raised him and supported his dreams of becoming an artist, seeing him grow up to be a successful author and illustrator. The inclusion of this book on the longlist for the 2018 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature is well earned.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on October 16, 2018

Hey, Kiddo
by Jarrett J. Krosoczka