BookBrowse Reviews Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

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Hey, Kiddo

by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka X
Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
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    Oct 2018, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
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An affecting graphic memoir of an emotionally turbulent childhood with art as its salvation.

When I was an elementary school library aide in Las Vegas, Jarrett Krosoczka was a constant companion on my shelving cart. Here was a children's graphic novelist who not only turned assumptions on their heads but made them breakdance too. Lunch ladies could battle evil librarians, robotic substitute teachers, and even art forgers on a field trip, while still making sure that lunch happened on time. Platypus could be police detectives, doggedly on the trail of amusement park saboteurs. And a Star Wars Jedi Academy was seen through the eyes of the new, eager student Victor Starspeeder.

What's not entirely apparent in the obvious joy that Krosoczka takes in his great and growing body of work is the engine that drives his artistic needs. But in the first few pages of National Book Award Finalist Hey, Kiddo, Krosoczka's graphic memoir about his childhood (for a slightly older audience - ages 12 and up - than his other books), it's obvious right from the start – with the gray cloud of gloom across the title pages – that this will tell his painful story. It seems as if this is something Krosoczka has thought about for years, seeking the right time and the right format in which to explore the process of a boy becoming an artist.

Krosoczka was born to Leslie, an unreliable, troubled mother who is gradually revealed to be a heroin addict, and a musician father who he never knew while growing up. Horrified that Krosoczka was basically living alone at three years old, his grandfather Joe, an impressive, resourceful inventor, and his caustic, mercurial, yet loving grandmother Shirley take him in. Joe becomes his sole legal guardian because Leslie refuses to give up her parental rights if Shirley is part of the agreement. Monstrous tension was between them, likely starting when Leslie became pregnant with Jarrett.

Krosoczka grows up in his grandparents' house, visits his mother while she's in rehab, and sends her letters with requests for different drawings that they do for each other, revealing Leslie as a talented artist. Krosoczka features actual artifacts from his childhood throughout these pages, and it's clear that this is when he began to become an artist.

The color palette for Hey, Kiddo is darker, with a more melancholic humor, than what Krosoczka has produced before, which is understandable. The young Krosoczka is in turmoil over his broken family, trying to figure out where his place is in the world, if he'll be able to see his mother more often than he does, and if he even wants to see her at all. She never offered any kind of motherly love, only selfishness – she once tricked him into looking away while she stole scarves from a department store – and the grays here give readers a strong feeling of what Krosoczka went through in his childhood. It was, though, bolstered by his grandparents' and relatives' love and guidance, particularly when Joe decides that Jarrett could thrive with art classes at the Worcester Art Museum. Later on, Krosoczka delicately grapples with whether he wants to know his father, which lead to many touching moments that augur great hope for his life.

Jarrett J. Krosoczka's graphic memoir is a prime example of a book that can help people feel less alone in situations where they think they are unique. The arc is a hopeful one, from living with a drug-addicted parent to taking the one class that sets him on the path to his life's work. He has created a powerful beacon for those who have been searching for the same kind of hope, and this graphic novel memoir reaches deep into the heart and soul and lodges itself there.

Reviewed by Rory L. Aronsky

This review is from the Hey, Kiddo. It first ran in the October 31, 2018 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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