With his 2018 graphic memoir, Hey, Kiddo, Jarrett J. Krosoczka hit a home run. His account of growing up with outspoken grandparents, a heroin-addicted mother, and an absent father was a National Book Award finalist, and its full-cast audiobook adaptation—performed live on tour—won the ALA’s Odyssey Award. Hey, Kiddo also marked Krosoczka’s entrée into the YA arena, building on the younger fan base of his Lunch Lady graphic novels and other works. Now, after several years of virtual outreach, including his YouTube drawing tutorials and a podcast featuring graphic novelists, he’s back in the book batter’s box with Sunshine (Graphix, Apr.).
Sunshine “covers one week in my senior year of high school in which I and some of my classmates volunteered at a camp for children with life-threatening illnesses like cancer,” Krosoczka says. “It was very important for me to expand upon how working at that camp and being in service to others changed the trajectory of my life.”
In Hey, Kiddo, Krosoczka included a one-page mention of his profound experience at Camp Sunshine, which made him wonder whether he had siblings and prompted him to write a letter to his estranged father, but the whole story never made it into that book. “Initially, it was an unruly, 100-page chapter that took an early draft of Hey, Kiddo on a complete detour,” he recalls. It was among many “scenes and moments and misadventures of my teenage life” that didn’t fit the ultimate through line, he adds. He credits David Levithan, Scholastic v-p, publisher, and editorial director, with helping him find the right approach.
“Look, if there were ever to be a second memoir, I think it would be about your time at this camp,” Krosoczka remembers Levithan telling him. “Don’t write this memoir as if it’s the only chance you’ll ever have to write about your life.”
That advice gave Krosoczka the spark to start Sunshine. He stresses the new book is not a sequel but rather a companion. “One would be able to read Hey, Kiddo up until about page 260, read the entirety of Sunshine, and then go back and read the last 50–60 pages of Hey, Kiddo, if you needed to read things in chronological order.”
Putting Sunshine together was not all, well, sunshine. “It was just as emotionally fraught and brutal” as writing Hey, Kiddo, Krosoczka says, because the research revived bittersweet memories of the main campers, whom he still misses. “There were days where I would end up in tears all over again, because I would spend an afternoon looking up obituaries of children I took care of 20 years ago. I’ve thought of them every day since that fall of 1994.”
Krosoczka believes readers will take an emotional ride in Sunshine, which will be released simultaneously in print and full-cast audiobook editions; his spring tour will feature actors performing live, unabridged readings of the entire book. “My hope is that you’ll be laughing hysterically on one page, and on the next page, you’ll have a heavy heart,” he says. His goal in Sunshine is to “balance these lighter and heavier moments, which is life itself.”