Hey, Kiddo

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Hey, Kiddo Book Poster Image
Big-hearted memoir of rocky childhood with addicted mom.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Information about substance abuse. Steps of writing process: brainstorming and organizing ideas. Making art and comics: thumbnails, sketches, drafting table, Bristol board, India ink, nib pens, brushes, underground comics, 'zines, art classes at art museum, line work, still life, murals, Georgia O'Keefe, cartoons in school newspaper, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Path to becoming an artist. Ball valve industry. Camps for kids with cancer. Leukemia.

Positive Messages

Though your family may be imperfect, they can love you. Addiction is a powerful and painful disease. Doing what you love will contribute to your self-esteem. Supportive adults who encourage and mentor kids can help them overcome adversity. Some family members can disappoint you, but others may come through. Your "family" includes all who care for you.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jarrett's resilient. He finds ways to heal from the effects of his mom's addiction. He turns to other, more supportive adults and derives satisfaction from his art. Grandparents actively support Jarrett's art -- buying him drafting table, signing him up for lessons, and taking great pride in his artistic accomplishments. Jarrett protects himself from his mom when he needs to, and bravely gets in touch with the father he never knew, forging a relationship with half-siblings. Grandpa works hard and is a resourceful inventor and entrepreneur.

Violence

Neighborhood toughs jump Jarrett and beat him up. High school bullies beat him up in school. Mom's disreputable friends show up with a knife and covered in blood. Jarrett gets his hand stuck in an escalator and pictures show blood spurting.

Sex

Two teen pregnancies. Teens pictured kissing/making out. When Jarrett paints a mural of Napoleon for his high school he suggestively positions the light switch in the crotch.

Language

Lots of profanity and coarse name-calling from grandmother. When teen daughter gets pregnant, Grandma calls her "slut," "whore," and curses "goddamned mulatto baby." Calls family members "fecking a--holes." "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph" as exclamation. Jarrett says "crap," "s--t." Bullies call him "faggot."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Mom was heroin addict, in and out of jail and rehab, and author's note reveals she eventually died of a heroin overdose. Mom pictured heating drugs up in a spoon and about to shoot up with a syringe. Grandparents drink heavily. Grandpa shown coming home drunk, Grandma stumbles drunk on stairs and breaks arm. She gets verbally abusive when drinking. Underage teens at party buy drinks, have fake ID. Grandparents always pictured with cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Hey, Kiddo is by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author-illustrator of a host of very funny and imaginative middle grade and picture books, including the graphic novel series Lunch Lady, but this book's aimed for teens. It's a frank but very moving memoir of growing up with a mom addicted to heroin. Though all is not bleak -- Jarrett's grandparents take him in, provide stability, and encourage his talent as an artist -- there's serious content. The mom's mostly absent -- in and out of rehab, halfway houses, and jail. She became addicted as a young teen, and had Jarrett out of wedlock with a boy who was quickly out of the picture. Jarrett's aunt also has a teen pregnancy. The grandparents, though loving, are boozers, and when the grandmother hits the sauce, she swears and engages in coarse name calling coarse name-calling ("slut," "whore"). Profantiy includes "s--t" and "goddamned." Still, Krosoczka gives credit to his grandparents, influential teachers, and even his mom, in reproductions of actual letters and artwork she sent him at the time. This book will resonate strongly with kids affected by family substance abuse, but all can be stirred by its redemptive human story.

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What's the story?

In HEY, KIDDO, Jarrett lives with his troubled single mom. When she's caught shoplifting and the two of them end up at the police station, the grandparents push for custody and raise Jarrett. His unreliable mom occasionally appears in his life unexpectedly, but she's largely absent, missing birthdays, holidays, and graduations. Though Jarrett craves her love, his grandparents eventually reveal to him that she's a heroin addict and often in jail. Despite his challenges, Jarrett actively develops his talent as an artist, and makes the most of the cards he's been dealt.

Is it any good?

This graphic novel memoir doesn't candy-coat the heartrending pain of growing up with an addicted mom, but it's shot through with an infectious generosity of spirit and hope. In Hey, Kiddo, the matter-of-fact text helps us view events through a kid's eyes. Jarrett's unreliable mom makes a series of "terrible decisions. Decisions that would forever alter our relationship as mother and son." His grandmother's boozy, alcohol-soaked verbal attacks are disturbing. Some of the pain's conveyed through art, in free-flowing borderless panels. When Jarrett's first separated from his mom, we see him being carried away kicking and screaming. His mom's face when they're fleeing a police car is angry and contorted. And a segment involving her blood-soaked druggie friends is pictured, not described.

But Krosoczka balances the grit with warmth and gratitude for the gifts he was given. His grandparents, though hard-drinking, actively and enthusiastically encouraged his talent, as did caring, influential teachers and mentors. And the art's studded with poignant personal memorabilia -- including Jarrett's early comics and art, lovingly saved by his grandparents, a telling detail.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the addiction in Hey, Kiddo. Do you have family members who are alcoholics or addicts? How does substance abuse ripple out and affect others who are close to the addict?

  • Do you have something you love to do the way Jarrett loved to create art and comics? Are there adults in your life who encourage you, the way Jarrett's grandparents and teachers did?

  • Though Jarrett had a rough childhood, he's had success, happiness, and stability as an adult. What hopes do you have for your own life? What can you imagine as your own happy future?

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