HEY, KIDDO by Jarrett J. Krosoczka is a graphic memoir that brings together the conflicting realities of what family can mean. Krosoczka details his childhood and adolescence with brutal honesty, including the neglect, love, disappointment and hope that make life so complicated. Jarrett, called “Ja” through much of the memoir, grows up with his maternal grandparents after his mother’s unstable lifestyle puts him in danger too many times. We, and Jarrett, later find out his mother is addicted to heroin. While far from perfect, growing up with his grandparents affords Jarrett the stability, love, and opportunities that help him survive turbulent relationships and misadventures.
While infused with love, Jarrett’s childhood is also filled with his grandmother’s sometimes abusive tirades, terrifying nightmares, and the palpable absence of his mother, who spends time both in jail and rehabilitation homes. A consistent and strong friendship, finding the joy of art, and the support of his extended family ensured Jarrett was surrounded by support and acceptance. However, the absence and sporadic appearances of his mother is threaded through his entire life.
The void of not knowing his father doesn’t become an issue until Jarrett’s teens, and it takes several years to become curious enough to make contact. However, it is the longing to reunite with his mother, and the eventual disappointment, that overwhelms the narrative. The arc of Jarrett’s relationships with his biological parents, intertwined with the gratitude and connection he has with his grandparents, is moving and bittersweet.
In the tradition of SHOUT, by Laurie Halse Anderson, Hey, Kiddo offers a realistic look at a complicated childhood with few punches pulled. In addition, it offers an optimistic message with unexpected opportunities and art as an outlet and safe space for young people plagued by hardships, abuse, and self-doubt.
Aimed at readers aged 13 and up, the language in this graphic memoir is authentic. It includes mid-range curses and some abusive language. It also depicts drug use, violence, and frightening nightmares. However, I believe most teens, and even strong tween readers, will connect to the narrative and find the story both authentic and inspiring.