Jarrett Krosoczka is an illustrator and author who is most famous for his Lunch Lady & Jedi Academy series. His most recent book, Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction, is a graphic memoir for young adults that comes out on October 9th. It was recently longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. I was lucky enough to receive a galley copy when I went to the SIBA tradeshow last month. Krosoczka was unable to make it to speak at the event because of Hurricane Florence but he did record a very moving video about the book that we (booksellers) watched together. I left that lunch knowing that I was going to read the book before I even got back home.
Reader, I read it in one, very emotional, sitting.
In this book, Krosoczka tells the story of his family--starting with his grandparents, Joe & Shirley, who met and fell in love as teenagers. After his grandfather returned from WWII, during which the young Shirley had broken up with him, he came back to Worcester, MA to win back her heart. They got married shortly after and started having children. Jarrett’s mother, Leslie, was the second child in a family of five kids. The same year Leslie was born, Joe opened a factory that was fairly successful throughout his life, and spent most of his time working. Shirley, however, had experienced a personal tragedy that led her to start drinking heavily. This was the beginning of a tumultuous mother/daughter relationship between Shirl & Leslie.
When Leslie was 13, she began to act out. She started sneaking out, drinking, doing drugs, and getting into fights at school. Eventually, Leslie came home to say that she was pregnant. This did not help the volatile relationship she had with her mother but she did manage to stay clean while she was pregnant. After Jarrett was born, Joe bought Leslie a little home to make their own and they lived relatively happily there until Jarrett was a few years old. Leslie made a series of bad decisions and eventually went to jail. While there, Jarrett went to live with his grandparents and Joe set things up so that he, legally, had custody of him.
Ultimately, Jarrett was better off living with his grandparents than with Leslie. They were supportive of his art, encouraging him to make friends at school, and wanted to be involved in his life. However, they both drank heavily and fought constantly. It wasn’t the most stable upbringing, especially when you add in the infrequent visits and letters from his mother. After Leslie got out of jail, she spent time in halfway houses trying to get her life back on track. Jarrett always hoped, as a young kid, that he would be able to live with his mother again. It wasn’t even until he was in 3rd grade that he learned his mother was in jail and the knowledge haunted him. His hope to be reunited with his mother diminished as he aged until, eventually, he was a bitter, angry teenager.
During this time, he also began wondering about his father, who he’d never met and who’d never sought him out despite knowing that he had a child. As a teenager, he discovered his father’s last name and couldn’t shake the thoughts of him and what knowing his father would mean for his identity. So, when he got a letter from him one day, he was surprised but still not ready to get to know him yet.
Throughout middle and high school, Jarrett kept sketchbooks to draw in everywhere he went. He took art classes and began to get involved in the school newspaper as an illustrator for their comic section. Through art, he was able to explore the emotions he was feeling and express the pain he was feeling in a way that didn’t hurt him or anyone else. The drawings from this period of his life are quite dark and you can tell he was struggling with a lot.
There’s more to the story but I’ve gotten to the part where I feel like I’m going to give something integral away so I’ll stop my summary here. You’ll have to grab a copy to find out what happened to teenage Jarrett.
Reading this book was difficult but satisfying for me. Krosoczka writes with a openness and honesty about his troubled upbringing that I found both refreshing and reassuring. He also added a lot of special, personal touches to the book that made reading it especially moving. For example, each of the chapter title pages has the pattern of the wallpaper that was on the walls of the house he grew up in. He saved a roll of it to use in this book. He also added in actual art that he made as a child. All the artwork you see in the book that he says was drawn by him, was actually drawn by him when he was young and then superimposed into the book later. The letters from his mother are also real letters that she wrote to him. It was a very nice touch to this personal, painful memoir.
For my part, I didn’t grow up in a traditional nuclear family so seeing a representation of a loving family that maybe wasn’t quite like the families I saw in movies & tv shows was comforting. I also have experience dealing with family members struggling with addiction. Krosoczka’s memoir does an excellent job excavating the pain and anger that boil up in situations like this without feeling like he’s dramatizing for the sake of the story. Stories of addiction often have enough drama without needing any embellishment. Ultimately, the book felt real and raw and accessible in a way that I haven’t seen in a graphic memoir for a while. Comparatively though, it reminded me of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic.
Because this book was made for young adults (recommended ages 12-14), I feel that the topic is especially important. During a time when opioids are so widely available and so many people are addicted to them that the media calls it a crisis, there are many young adults who will find this book and be reassured by it’s honesty and it’s message.
I talk a lot about the importance of representation and there are lots of obvious ways that we can improve representation in literature. For example, it’s my priority to highlight books by marginalized authors or with marginalized characters both in my store and on our social media. However, I do think there are groups of marginalized people whose stories are often overlooked. The stories of those families fighting drug or alcohol addiction, and the children caught in the crossfire, are on that list. Often, addiction is a dark family secret. It’s not something you talk about outside of the family and certainly isn’t a story you share with the rest of the world, particularly in literature for young people. So, the importance of this work at this particular time in history is a bit elevated. We need these stories, not just for the sake of representation but also because the message we learn from Krosoczka is extremely valuable.
What is that message, then? The message is not particularly unique or surprising but it is one that I think we need to hear. Art saves. Art saves people. Art saves lives. Art saves families. Art saves angry kids from going to jail. Art saves. Art saved Jarrett from repeating the mistakes of his mother. Art saved Jarrett from the demons that plagued him. Art saved Jarrett from a life of doing something he didn’t love. Art saved Jarrett from the bitterness that threatened to eat him up as a teenager. Without art and a family who supported that art, we wouldn’t have the Jarrett Krosoczka we know and love today.
So, if you know a kid who’s struggling with their own demons or someone else’s, I highly recommend this book to them. If you know someone who is a parent and an addict, I also recommend this to them. It paints a vivid picture of the pain that a parent’s addiction caused one boy. If that message can help one person recognize the suffering they’re causing, then this book is more than worth the cost to purchase it. If the message that art saves can be imparted onto at least one young soul, then I think we’re on our way to making the world a better place.
You can pick up a copy of Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka at Foggy Pine Books on Tuesday, October 9th. You can also pre-order the ebook from us online and have it downloaded to your device that day.
I'm a huge fan of Katie O'Neill and loved her previous books: The Tea Dragon Society and Princess Princess Ever After, so I was excited to have the opportunity to read her upcoming book.
Aquicorn Cove is the story of a small fishing village and the people who live there, who love their way of life. A young girl, Lana, comes back to visit with her Auntie Mae after a terrible storm does a lot of damage in the village. While helping her family and friends clean up, she finds a seahorse looking animal (an aquicorn!) that needs help and rescues it to let it recover before returning it to the ocean. We learn that Lana's situation is complicated and that there's a lot of emotion to process while she's visiting her Auntie. When Lana asks her Auntie about the creature she rescued, Mae tells her the story of meeting a beautiful Aquicorn queen, Aure. She tells her how she helped their family and the message she gave her about the destruction of the ocean and coral reefs. This caused a huge rift between Aure and Mae. When another big storm threatens the island and Auntie Mae, Lana seeks help from the Aquicorns to keep both the village and her Aunt safe. When Lana is taken on her own undersea adventure, she discovers how much damage humans are doing to the ocean and to the coral reef. What can Lana do to help the Aquicorns and her Auntie's village? You'll have to read the story to find out!
This book is a heart-warming and thoughtful story about the power of family and how, if we all care just a little bit, we can each make a big difference in the world. I couldn't imagine a better follow up to Katie O'Neill's previous books. I highly recommend for anyone who enjoys sweet, adorable stories with gorgeous artwork and a moral to think about at the end.
🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟-- Mary gives this book 5 out of 5 stars!
Aquicorn Cove comes out on October 16th but you can pre-order it here at Foggy Pine Books or pick it up here on release day!
I started this book because the title made me giggle every time I looked at it. The summary sounded interesting and I always enjoy something that's different from what I typically read. This was definitely a departure for me but one that I'm thoroughly pleased I decided to make.
I expected something funny and light-hearted which is, mostly, what I received. However, I was surprised that, from the beginning, there was a vein of insidiousness winding it's way through the story. Though the title and the subject matter lead you toward something fun and exciting, there was more to this book than I was anticipating.
We begin our story by meeting Nikki, a young British & Punjabi woman living in London. Her relationship with her family is strained after she drops out of law school and moves out of her mother's apartment, something young women in her community are not expected to do until marriage. Despite that, she and her sister still talk often. Nikki feels aimless after leaving college and has been working at a pub. When posting a marriage flyer at a temple for her sister (who is seeking an arranged marriage), she sees an advertisement for a job at the local community center, teaching Punjabi women how to write stories. Nikki applies and interviews for the job so is very pleased to be hired, despite her lack of experience. However, when the time comes to teach the class, she realizes that the Punjabi widows who have come to learn how to write stories also need to learn how to write. Feeling frustrated, she thinks about quitting but wants the experience to include on her CV.
During one class, she comes into the room to find that one of the younger women is reading aloud from the erotica book Nikki had purchased for her sister as a joke. Embarrassed, she explains why she has the book and tries to bring the class back on track. The widows, however, have another idea. Their husbands have died and they are lonely. They miss intimacy and sex. To Nikki's horror, the women start sharing erotic stories with one another. Some are stories about their own lives, some are from their imaginations, and some are ideas gleaned from the late night soft-core movies they've discovered on cable. Despite her original discomfort at hearing these otherwise conservative women discuss their passions, Nikki begins to realize that sharing these stories is good for the women. It makes them feel strong and makes them willing to seek the passion they so desire in their own lives. The stories start to spread around the community and more women begin to seek out Nikki's class.
Not everyone is happy that the widows are opening up and learning more about themselves though. A group of ultra-conservative young men in the community with no jobs and nothing better to do have started harassing women and men who are not behaving as traditionally as The Brothers believe a respectable person should. Women who are out too late, enjoying time with friends in mixed gender groups, or who aren't covering their head have been assaulted and attacked. In addition to the fear mongering by The Brothers, the widow of a community religious figure is blackmailing people in exchange for "prayers" concerning the immoral or unfavorable behaviors being held against them.
As the story progresses, we begin to see exactly what kind of threat the women's classes are to the traditionally conservative community in which they live. The women are beginning to stand up for themselves, to fight back against the injustices wrought by The Brothers. The men in the community are confused and worried. They have typically never had to worry about things like this from the elder women in the community; only the younger, more British, girls give them problems regarding authority, sexuality, and education. When Nikki begins to unravel community secrets about the death of her boss' daughter, she draws the attention of The Brothers. The concern about the women's classes burns into hate and fear.
Interwoven between the erotic stories the widows tell and the mystery of what happened to her boss' daughter is Nikki's love story. She meets a man, at the temple of all unlikely places, and is swiftly falling for him. They are incredibly happy together and Nikki is coming to terms with loving someone of whom her family would actually approve. However, Jason starts to act sketchy, taking quiet, argumentative phone calls before leaving briskly. This happens several times before he leaves and doesn't return for weeks. When he does, Nikki must decide if she wants to listen to what he has to say or if his bailing is something she can't forgive.
The story ends in a way that was entirely unexpected though the author did sprinkle clues about it throughout the story. I was just too absorbed to try to put together a mystery ending. We reach a satisfying conclusion for every thread of the story and I finished the book feeling entirely pleased.
While being funny and enticing and entirely engaging, this book was also a social critique about the way women are treated in the Punjabi community and how immigrants are treated in the United Kingdom. The book mostly takes place in the largely Indian community of Southall, London and most of it's characters are Punjabi Indians and immigrants (or from a family of immigrants). I learned a lot about their culture through this book. Tradition and community are extremely important to the characters we meet. Arranged marriages are still fairly common, though much different than our stereotypical idea of what that means. Women are expected to serve in their in-laws homes after marriage, some are pressured to give up their jobs entirely. Men and women still wear traditional dress and speak Punjabi in their homes. Because of these things, they have been made to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable in London as a whole. Their community is tight knit and the gossip can be insidious. Your standing in the community is a very important aspect of an individual's social status. By the end of the book, the author makes it clear that while they support the idea of community and cultural tradition, they do not support the oppressive forces that are often inextricably tied to religion. Especially those traditional aspects of religion that force women to serve men and put their own needs, desires, and passions at the back of the line in support of their husband, father, brother, or son.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who loved A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, or Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James.
In Red Clocks, Zumas paints the picture of a not-so-unimaginable future in which the U.S. has banned abortions. After the election of an ultra-conservative president, women of the United States find themselves in dire straits. Abortion is now punishable with prison time, as well as in vitro fertilization and adoption by any "nontraditional" couples or individuals--meaning LGBTQIA+, single person, and non-Christian families. The story follows several different women as the author explores how this new legislation has impacted their lives:
--a young girl just learning to navigate her sexuality
--the single teacher at her school who desperately wants a baby but can't conceive or adop
--the local healer, a woman considered a witch for her herb knowledge and pleasure in her own company
--the harried stay-at-home mom unhappy in her marriage and wishing she'd continued her law career instead
This novel is an exploration of harmful legislation and how the people impacted by it must navigate their lives in new and uncomfortable ways. It's also a warning that the freedoms are cherish can be eroded at slowly until, with a single election, they no longer exist. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and absolutely could not stop listening to it. The audiobook was extremely well done and I enjoyed the reader's voice and reading pattern. Read if you loved The Handmaid's Tale or The Power.
You may purchase copies of this book at the bookstore or you can click the links below to order them from us online in different formats.
Mary Ruthless: Owner & Ruthless Reader