Review: Chance: Escape from the Holocaust

 Chance: Escape from the Holocaust by Uri Shulevitz

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Rachel Fremmer

Chance: Escape from the Holocaust by Uri Shulevitz is a tour de force, a culmination of his life’s work, in which he traces his family’s journey from Poland to various locations in the Soviet Union during World War II. In direct, simple, and yet beautiful prose, he matter-of-factly recounts the horrors and the hunger - such hunger! - of those days. The book also traces his personal evolution as an artist, reader, and writer. In a particularly appropriate choice of words, he says that, as a refugee, his “only refuge was drawing” and that drawing was his “home.”

The title of the book reflects Shulevitz’s belief - dare I say theology? - that he and his parents were saved by chance alone. He asks why he and his non-observant parents were saved while his deeply devout grandfather was not and concludes “I have no answers.” This philosophy, hard for anyone to accept, may be particularly hard for the intended middle-grade audience.

Chance is a book that defies categorization. Billed as a middle-grade memoir, it depicts - both in words and pictures (including pencil sketches, mini graphic-novel-like sequences, and photographs) - violence that I suspect is beyond the emotional capability of most middle-grade children (and perhaps anyone!) to digest. It has pictures, but it is not a picture book. At 329 pages and an unusual trim size (7.4 inches x 9.31 inches) it appears hefty, but its relatively large font and illustrations make it a faster read than one would expect.

Chance is not “just another Holocaust book.” It beautifully, powerfully, and painfully recounts and illustrates the lesser-known story of Jewish refugees who ended up in the Soviet Union during the war. It undoubtedly meets the criteria and exceeds the standards for the Sydney Taylor Book Award. 

Are you interested in reviewing books for The Sydney Taylor Shmooze? Click here! 

Reviewer Rachel J Fremmer is a lawyer-turned-elementary-school librarian. She is a native New Yorker and lives there with her husband two daughters, ages 15 and 12, who are rapidly outgrowing her area of book expertise. She loves baking and doing crossword puzzles.