By GEORGE GENE GUSTINES
Jarrett J. Krosoczka, the author of ‘‘Lunch Lady,’’ worried about the reaction to a book about his mother’s addiction. (Tony Luong for The New York Times)
With his latest book, a graphic memoir, Jarrett J. Krosoczka has mined his childhood to tell a story relevant to today’s opioid epidemic in the United States.
“Hey, Kiddo” is about being raised by his grandparents in Massachusetts. Mr. Krosoczka, now 40, did not know his father, and his mother was battling a heroin addiction that eventually took her life.
“There are so many kids out there whose parents do terrible things,” Mr. Krosoczka said. “It’s important for kids to know that it doesn’t make them a bad person.”
The book is aimed at a young adult audience. The prelude introduces us to Joseph (Joe), his grandfather, who is instructing young Jarrett on a coming-of-age ritual. “You know why I’m teaching you to drive in a cemetery, right?” he asks. “Because everyone is already dead,” they answer jointly (Joe with a smile; Jarrett with a slight eye roll).
Thepages feature word balloons that are borderless, and the scenes are in grayscale and burnt orange (a testament to the pocket squares his grandfather wore to give his outfits a burst of color).
When his mother, Leslie, finds herself pregnant and unwed, his grandmother, Shirley (Shirl) unleashes a torrent of terrible names at her — though they give way to sweet baby talk when Jarrett is born.
Mr. Krosoczka lived with his mother for about two years, but the good memories — the Charlie Brown bath toys, the Franken Berry cereal, the Halloween costumes — are overpowered by harsh realities. There is the start of her heroin use, a shoplifting spree and unfamiliar men, two of whom she abets in hiding the evidence of a murder. It is this last incident that allows Joe to obtain legal custody of Jarrett.
Over the years, every time Mr. Krosoczka set out to work on this personal story, he hesitated, worrying about “what people would think.” The concern involved the potential reactions of the family members depicted and the fans who know him for his work like the school “Lunch Lady,” who serves sloppy joes and justice.
David Levithan, the book’s editor, pushed Mr. Krosoczka, a longtime friend. “I was able to say you’re dodging,” he said. “You call her Leslie, but she is your mother. This book is about your mother. That’s the heart of the story.”
His meeting with his father, Richard Hennessy, comesin steps. He finds out his father’s first and last name, and they exchange letters. A photolets him see his father for the first time, and a brother and sister.
His motherdied of an overdose on March 23, 2017, while Mr. Krosoczka was revising the book.At the funeral home, he noticed that next to the box bearing his mother’s ashes were four or five of his “Lunch Lady” books. The son of an employee was a fan and was hoping for an autograph.
Mr. Krosoczka was at first taken aback. But “my second thought was, well, at least my mother gets to come to one last book signing. She was always there, even if our relationship wasn’t great, she’d turn up.”