Book Review: A boy who found salvation in comics: Author of autobiographical graphic novel ‘Hey, Kiddo’ to give talk in Greenfield on Tuesday

 JARRETT KROSOCZKA

JARRETT KROSOCZKA COURTESY STUDIO JJK

By TINKY WEISBLAT

For the Recorder

Published: 03-29-2024 12:21 PM

‘Hey, Kiddo” came out in 2018. I was inspired to read it last week when I learned that its author, Jarrett Krosoczka of Florence, will be visiting Greenfield this coming Tuesday, April 2.

I haven’t read a lot of graphic novels (I’m too old!), but I can’t imagine this story being told in any other format. It’s the autobiographical tale of a boy whose life was opened up and enriched by drawing — drawing comics in particular.

For young Jarrett, art forged a connection with his often absent mother, a talented artist herself, who was a heroin addict. It gave him a place in school, providing a model of success that was an alternative to academics or sports. It gave him an outlet for his sometimes confused emotions. As he matured, it gave him a focus for his life and a career.

In the story’s prologue, Jarrett is a teenager learning to operate an automobile from his grandfather, Joe. Joe likes to give driving lessons in the cemetery “because everybody is already dead.” The location also gives Joe a chance to visit the graves of his beloved parents.

The scene sets up a lot of the story to come. The reader gets a sense of Joe as a man of common sense, humor, and loyalty to family.

The book moves on to give a bit of backstory about Joe and his wife, Shirley, and to sketch (literally and figuratively) Jarrett’s early life with the mother who adored him but couldn’t take care of him.

As he gets older and goes to school, Joe, Shirley, and their other children are Jarrett’s mainstay. They don’t entirely understand his gift for drawing, but they encourage him to pursue it nevertheless.

It takes Jarrett years to overcome his mother’s inability to take care of him and to realize that he is a capable young person with a rock-solid family. He goes on to meet his father and to expand his family ties with newly discovered half siblings.

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“Hey, Kiddo” doesn’t present a perfect family. Joe and Shirley fight frequently. Moreover, all the love in the world can’t save Jarrett’s mother from the addiction that eventually claims her life.

None of us has a perfect family, however. “Hey Kiddo” shows that love and humor can make up for a lot of flaws. Jarrett grows up surrounded by both of those qualities and goes on to cherish and practice them as an adult.

The book is illustrated not just with Krosoczka’s drawings but also with images of artifacts from his youth. It emphasizes the importance of storytelling as a way of paying tribute to people one loves — and of making sense of one’s own identity.

Both adults and young people should enjoy this moving graphic novel and the creative person who wrote and drew it. The story and the style appealed to me greatly, and I highly recommend “Hey, Kiddo.”

Jarrett Krosoczka will give a presentation about “Hey, Kiddo” in the Community Room of the Greenfield Public Library on Tuesday, April 2, at 5:30 p.m.

The program is intended for ages 12 and up. The author will answer questions and sign copies of his book after the talk.

The Greenfield Public Library will offer several events during the month of April, particularly during National Library Week (April 8-13), when the library will host a local author Meet and Greet. For a full schedule, visit https://greenfieldpubliclibrary.org/.

Tinky Weisblat is an award-winning cookbook author and singer known as the Diva of Deliciousness. Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.