Heavy Medal Finalist: HEY, KIDDO by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
HEY, KIDDO is a nonfiction graphic memoir. Gently moving back and forth from somber to humorous and back, Krosoczka tells the story of dealing with his mother’s addiction and being raised by his grandparents in way that is approachable and appropriate for older child readers.
Being a graphic novel, the text is not as dense as in a traditional novel, yet Krosoczka still conveys multiple complex relationships. Young Jarrett’s relationships with his mother, aunts, and grandparents are all fully expressed. It would have been easy to simplify the characters – loving, sweet grandparents, an absent mother – but Krosoczka develops each of them into complex real people with virtues and flaws. It would be impressive to have so many richly developed characters in a prose novel, let alone within the graphic novel limitations.
One of the book’s greatest strengths is it’s handling of Jarrett’s mother’s addiction. We see the addiction first by what her neglect means for a young child: preschool-aged Jarrett fixes his own breakfast every morning. With this one detail, Krosoczka conveys the absence of the nurturing we expect for children. We see her time in rehab through letters and drawings sent to Jarrett, many of which are actual artifacts from Krosoczka’s life. The book makes clear that addiction is an illness that goes in cycles, improving and worsening, not easily cured. The addiction is not sugar-coated, but we also see the support Jarrett receives from his family that helps him persevere.
It’s difficult to discern whether some of the strengths can be credited to the text only, which is always an issue with graphic novels and Newbery discussions. The book conveys strong emotions: grief and fear and lots of love, but the artwork is a major factor in that conveyance.
In keeping with the nature of graphic novels, much of the text is dialogue. The characters’ voices are distinct and lively. We see this starting even on the first page when Jarrett’s grandfather is teaching him to drive. “Now slowly take your foot off the bra—” he says, then in the next panel exclaims, “Jeepers Crow!” This colloquial euphemism is a noticeable contrast to the frequently foul language used by Jarrett’s grandmother. The dialogue all feels natural, and each line reveals more about the character speaking it. Even portions that don’t seem essential to the plot deepen the characters so that no line is wasted.
Overall, the book makes great use of the format and the text, though seamlessly integrated with the illustrations, pulls its own weight in creating a cast of fully realized characters, involving the reader in their complex relationships, and carrying us through a true story filled with struggles but centered on love and hope.
Introduction by Mary Zdrojewski
Heavy Medal Committee members and other readers, please share your own insights about HEY, KIDDO in the comments below. As always, we’ll start with positive impressions, then open up the discussion to all views, including negatives, later today.
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Roxanne Hsu Feldman
Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School (4th to 8th grade) Librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. She served on the 2002 and 2013 Newbery Committees. Roxanne was also a member of 2008-2009 Notable Books for Children, 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the 2017 Odyssey Award Committees. In 2016 Roxanne was one of the three judges for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. You can reach her at at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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