Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found my Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
BY: Beatrice Ballarin
As scientists we generally study addiction by focusing on the addicted individual. This means we can sometimes fail to see the broader social and emotional consequences of addiction, especially if there is a child involved. In his inspiring graphic memoir, Hey, Kiddo: How I lost my mother, found my father, and dealt with my family addiction, Jarrett Krosoczka visualizes what it means to be raised by a dysfunctional family struggling with addiction, and still love them unconditionally and survive their imperfections. Hey, Kiddo is a coming-of-age graphic memoir written and illustrated by Jarrett, describing his own experience. The book is told from the perspective of an adolescent, and its panels poignantly capture the travails of a childhood touched by addiction and absent parents.
This IMS Magazine issue’s book review is different from our usual repertoire of non-fictional books. It narrates Jarrett’s childhood from his own understanding of the time. The vignettes combine a series of happy moments that every 3 years old is entitled to, such as snuggles and bath time. But we also see little Jarrett fixing his own breakfast: “as a 3-year-old, I was getting my cereal on my own because I was waking up in an empty house”. While it is clear to the reader that his mother has substance abuse issues, it seems that little Jarrett is not aware of it. It’s only much later that he discovers the truth about his mother and her heroin addiction.
Most of the text in Hey, Kiddo is expository, mirroring the fact that Jarrett’s familial circumstances weren’t often acknowledged in conversation. It’s the illustrations, rendered in thick black lines and grayscale watercolour, that allow the reader to feel the kaleidoscope of Jarrett’s experience. Even though a harsh reality is narrated, the book remains approachable for kids for its simplicity and directness.
Unlike most narrative accounts of addiction, if there’s any homily in Hey Kiddo, it’s the healing power of art. Indeed, graphic art plays an important role both in the book and in Jarrett’s life: “When I was a kid, I’d draw to get attention from my family,” he says in the first vignette. “In junior high, I drew to impress my friends,” says another. “But now that I am in my teens, I fill sketchbooks just to deal with life. To survive.” Later, art provided the backbone of a successful career: adult Jarrett is the writer-illustrator of many well-loved children’s books, including the Platypus Police Squad and Lunch Lady series.
This is a brave story. And a heartbreaking one. And even if there is a happy ending this time, experience tell us that many of those kiddos raised in an unstable home tend to follow the same path. Adult Jarrett is still paying the price of the neglect he experienced. Perhaps in the remarkable story of Hey kiddo, there is the wish of every child to be seen and loved by their parents. Perhaps there is the wish for a normal childhood. And perhaps the story doesn’t only represent Jarrett’s childhood, but also all those other kiddos that are dealing with addiction, isolation, and abuse in their families. Yet ultimately, this is also an inspiring story about channeling the craziness of this life into drawings. And transforming that pain and suffering into art that can heal and help others.