“ ‘It’s like Smile but with heroin.’ That’s the pull quote I’m hoping to get from a review,” jokes Jarrett Krosoczka about his latest project, Hey, Kiddo (Graphix, Oct.).
“I dug deep into my personal history to write a graphic memoir told from the perspective of my 17-year-old self,” he says. “The book tackles my unconventional upbringing with my alcoholic grandparents, and dives into my relationship with my heroin-addicted mother that grew even more complicated when I was contacted by my birth father for the first time.”
Widely known for his picture books and Lunch Lady graphic novel series, Krosoczka says he pondered writing about his childhood for nearly 20 years. “Many of those years were just spent thinking and wondering and imagining and building up the courage to actually write this book,” he says.
Krosoczka exhibited a good deal of courage during a 2012 TED Talk about how his imagination and passion for drawing and writing helped him survive the difficult circumstances of his home life. After it went viral, Krosoczka says he made connections with many people who recognized what he had gone through.
“That realization—that I was so far from alone—empowered me to be more open about my experiences,” Krosoczka says. “I realized that the only way to truly write memoir was to be brave and uninhibited.”
Sadly, Krosoczka’s mother died of a heroin overdose when the manuscript for Hey, Kiddo was undergoing revisions. “While the events surrounding her passing came as no surprise, the weight of the timing was not something that I could ignore,” he says. “As much as I always knew that I was writing this book for kids like me—kids who grew up surrounded by addiction—I was also writing this book for my mother. She never wanted to live with addiction and always wanted to help others coping with the illness.”
Though Hey, Kiddo covers difficult subject matter, Krosoczka’s account of his coming-of-age doesn’t just focus on the dark times. “I gave the book a rhythm that balances heavy moments and many real-life events filled with levity,” he says. As a test case, he adds, “I made my editor, David Levithan, laugh out loud and cry out loud. I am so eager for people to read this story.”