Jarrett J. Krosoczka's graphic novel Hey Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction called out to me at Book Expo as a way to speak about these issues, particularly parental incarceration and addiction, with a younger audience who doesn't know that they are not alone.
Jarrett grew up initially with his mother but when he was a toddler, his maternal grandparents took custody of him because they were concerned about the goings-on in his mother’s home. His mother would disappear for weeks or months at a time, sometimes sending Jarrett letters, but rarely visiting. As Jarrett grows older, his grandparents become more honest with him about the challenges with his mother — she is a heroin addict and has been in and out of prison his whole life. Jarrett, who spent years struggling with who he was and where he fit in, grew even more distant from his mother. Then, one day, his father sends him a letter. As Jarrett moves through adolescence, he must balance his own growing up, his mother’s struggle with addiction, and a new family he never knew he had.
I was incredibly taken by this book — I read it the very day that I got a copy. It stayed at the top of my bag throughout the Expo and I found myself continually being happy to be standing in line so that I could get back to this book. It was an easy read in that it is aimed for the younger set, and Krosoczka's graphics are really great. It has a consistent color scheme, which I feel helps to set the story for the reader. In fact, as I was in line for another children’s book, I found myself extolling its virtues to a children’s librarian. Here’s the gist of what I told her.
This book is vitally important for younger children. It’s a middle grade book, so sure, maybe its reading level isn’t quite elementary (although I would have read it as a fourth or fifth grader). But it should be on school library shelves. At one point in the book, Jarrett discovers that one of his classmates also has a mother who is an addict and he never knew. These kinds of secrets can tear children up, and with the amount of children in this country dealing with an addicted parent, it is so very important that these kids realize that they are not alone. One addicted person leaves at least a dozen affected people in his or her wake, and I am always amazed to find out how many of my friends either haven’t felt the sting of loving an addict or remain in denial about it.
Krosoczka has published a deep, meaningful, and important work for young people that lets them know that they aren’t alone in dealing with hard stuff. The more we avoid talking about addiction, the more power we give the shame surrounding it. We cannot forget that those who love an addict are affected as well, and this includes even the smallest children. I originally picked up Hey, Kiddo for my son, because while he won’t be reading it for a while, I intend to be honest with him about our family’s struggles with addiction. We will not give power to the shame of an illness that affects so many, and I am thankful to Krosoczka for producing a beautiful, open-hearted piece of work for that purpose.