Review: Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (9780545902472)

The author of the wildly popular Lunch Lady series has now created a graphic memoir of his childhood. Raised by his colorful grandparents, Jarrett grew up not understanding why he couldn’t see his mother more often. It turned out that she was in jail or recovery centers dealing with the consequences of her addiction. Jarrett didn’t even meet his father until his teens. Jarrett told only one friend when he found out that his mother was an addict, trying to keep the veneer of normalcy in place. He even tried to keep his grandparents from attending school events for the same reason. As Jarrett grew older and became focused on being an artist, he discovered who his father was and that he had two half-siblings. Soon his unusual family grew another branch.

The story here is personal and painful. It is a tale that so many children will relate to, that will show them how success can blossom from pain and how art can help to express that which can’t be said aloud. It is a brave book, one that tells tragic pieces of his life, and yet a hopeful one as well with the humor of his grandparents and the relationships Jarrett has and had with his extended family.

This graphic novel is quite simply gorgeous. It uses a color palette that is refined and limited, combining gray with a subtle orange. The entire feel of the art has a more clouded feel and less crisp lines than his previous work, creating a work that exudes memories and the not-so-distant past.

Personal, painful and profound, this graphic novel is honest and deep. Appropriate for ages 10-14.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Graphix.

Solo by Kwame Alexander

Solo by Kwame Alexander

Solo by Kwame Alexander (9780310761839, Amazon)

Blade has grown up with all sorts of privileges as the son of a rock star, but the big house and huge parties come at a cost. His father is always humiliating him, like when he crashes (literally) Blade’s graduation ceremony where Blade is meant to give a speech. His father tries to clean up his act regularly, but it never seems to stick and he returns to drugs and alcohol. Blade also misses his mother terribly after her death. When Blade finally confronts his father about his behavior, a family secret is revealed that changes Blade’s perspective permanently. He sets off to discover his own history, a journey that takes him to Ghana, a place entirely different than the one he has been living in.

Newbery-Medal winner Alexander has crafted another amazing verse novel here. He moves firmly into teen territory here, with a 17-year-old protagonist who is truly on a journey to discover himself. Alexander starts the novel with the excess of a rock legend’s life and then beautifully changes the novel mid-course to Ghana and people who live as a strong community with few luxuries. The two settings could not be more different nor could what Blade feels while he is in each. Ghana is vividly depicted as is Blade’s reaction to it, rich with people and place.

Alexander’s poetry writing is superb in both settings. Yet it truly comes alive in Ghana, particularly with Joy, Blade’s guide and inspiration while there. Just as Blade cannot look away from Joy, neither can the novel nor the reader since she is so captivating. Throughout the book, there are questions asked that are deep, about wealth and poverty, about privilege and race, about addiction and recovery, about parenting and failure. This is a rich book filled with lots to discover and discuss.

A great read that will be enjoyed by even those teens who may not think they’d like a verse novel. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from ARC received from HarperCollins.

Review: Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (InfoSoup)

Sunny has been sent to spend the summer with her grandfather in Florida. He lives in a retirement community where there are no children or pets allowed. Sunny tries to make the best of it despite the squeaky fold-out bed and her grandfather’s slow pace of life where an outing is a trip to the post office. Then Sunny meets Buzz, the son of the groundskeeper who teaches her about superheroes and comic books. Throughout the story, there are flashbacks to before Sunny came to Florida that involve her wild older brother. His behavior went from disobeying small rules to abusing drugs and alcohol. The tension builds until Sunny’s perfect beach vacation with her best friend has to be changed to sending her away to stay with her grandfather. This book explores the impact of having a family member who is an addict, the guilt children feel about it, and the shame they experience.

In the final pages of the book, Holm reveals that they grew up in a home where a close family member had addiction issues. You can see their first-hand experience in the book where Sunny’s deep emotions about what is happening to her family are held inside until they become too much. All of the emotions throughout this graphic novel are done superbly and communicated in a way that makes them easy to understand and relate to.

Sunny is a great lens to view addiction through, first naively and then as she starts to understand what is happening with a feeling of being part of the problem and contributing to her brother’s deteriorating situation. Even as she goes to Florida and fills her days with finding cats and collecting small rewards that she spends on comic books, she can’t escape what having a sibling with an addiction has done to her and her family.

A book that demonstrates that graphic novels with lighthearted illustrations can deal with big issues, this graphic novel is superb and belongs in every public library. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Graphix and Edelweiss.

Recovery Road: Stunning Honesty

recoveryroad

Recovery Road by Blake Nelson

Madeline is in rehab at Spring Meadows.  She has been moved to the halfway house where they are allowed to go to a movie once a week.  What starts as a protest and a joke, becomes a habit for Madeline even after her only friend at rehab leaves.  She meets Stewart there, a gorgeous boy who is also at the halfway homes.  The two of them connect immediately and even though there are strict rules about associating with the opposite sex, they manage to start a relationship.  Madeline leaves rehab to continue high school, leaving Stewart to finish his time in rehab.  Now the question is whether their relationship live without the intensity of rehab and in the cold light of real life.

Nelson has captured the intriguing mix of boredom and intensity of rehab.  He explores addiction and recovery with an unflinching honesty that forces readers to see the reality of the situation.  Through his two main characters of Madeline and Stewart, readers can see the different paths that recovery can take. 

I don’t want to make this seem like a clinical look at recovery.  Rather, it is filled with emotions and connections and failures and humanity.  It is that humanity that makes the truth so brutal at times.  Madeline is a great protagonist: a person who has made many mistakes but is striving to fix their impact on her future.

One quibble I have about the book is the sudden change of Madeline’s opinion about going to college after high school.  While it is a choice that makes perfect sense, her rapid change of a strong opinion happened a bit too quickly for me.  I found myself thinking about how it would have made much more sense delayed by a chapter or two as Madeline continued to grow and learn.

This is a superior book about addiction and recovery that is honest and human.  Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

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