Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author and illustrator of children’s books as Good night, Monkey Boy and the Lunch Lady series, reflects upon his childhood and family life in his graphic memoir. As a young child, Ja (as he’s known to his family) goes to live with his grandparents. He loves them, but he wants to live with his mom, like he always has. His father isn’t an option – he isn’t in the picture. The grown-ups explain that his mom had to go away for a while, but that she’ll be back soon. So Shirley and Joseph, Ja’s maternal grandparents, take on a toddler as their own children – Ja’s aunts and uncles – are finishing high school and going off to college. Ja grows up raised by his grandparents and writing letters to his mother, exchanging hand-drawn cards and replicas of cartoon characters by post. Shirley and Joe reveal to Ja after a few years go by that his mom isn’t coming back. She’s a heroin addict and she’s in jail. As Ja grows up and grows more absorbed in his art, he uses it to escape his feelings, his anger. How can he accept his mother? His family?
As someone whose family situation was similar to Jarrett’s growing up, this one hit me a little hard. As a life-long illustrator, Krosoczka’s art perfectly conveys the palpable love and pain in the pages. Loose, squiggly lines suggest tumultuous movement and a child-like innocence. The colors are somber, however. The entire book is rendered in grey scale, except for differing tones of a deep, burnt orange, at times bordering on red, for emphasizing important parts. The author’s note at the back confirm my suspicion that the mediums used were ink and Conte crayon ;D He used a mix of digital and traditional media, but I was totally fooled until I read the notes on the art: I thought it was all pen and paper. This was my first experience with his work, and I can safely say Krosoczka is, without a doubt, a master illustrator.
What makes this memoir especially unique and an intimate experience for the reader are the family artifacts used through the book. Each chapter has a title page with scans of letters, photos, Krosoczka’s childhood drawings, and even his grandparents’ wedding invitation. The vulnerability and trust it must have took to share these is monumental. Seeing these reminds the readers that this is a very real story, which makes it at once heartbreaking and inspirational. Here, Krosoczka is sharing his story, a story that many people would keep hidden out of shame or embarrassment. It may convince others to come forward and share their experiences with family addiction.
Though this is a book by a children’s author, it is not a children’s book. There are adult themes and strong language. The youngest reader I’d give this to would be a 7th or 8th grader, depending heavily on the maturity of the child. It would probably do well in teen collections. A heartfelt and masterfully illustrated memoir.
Krosoczka, Jarrett J. Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction. 2018.