Review: Courage to Dream

Courage to Dream: Tales of Hope in the Holocaust

by Neal Shusterman, illustrated by Andrés Vera Martínez

Graphix (imprint of Scholastic), 2023

Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Stacie Ramey

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In the author’s note, Shusterman discusses why he wrote this graphic novel despite his concerns about his ability to bring something new to this important subject. While it’s true that there are many other works dedicated to the Holocaust, Courage to Dream is a standout in a crowded field. It is an important read: entertaining, thought provoking, and evocatively drawn by an illustrator who lists his Tejano family’s violent struggles with white supremacy in Texas as a relatable factor in his background.

Courage to Dream looks at hope through the lens of storytelling, but is also supported by carefully researched historical facts and drawings. It is told in parts, each delineated by a Hebrew letter, with an explanation at the back of the book as to the specific meanings of each of the letters. The writing pulls from the mythos of the Jewish people, including references to Jewish mysticism in the form of a magic window, the manifestation of the golem, ancient Jewish folklore such as the Baba Yaga and the Village of Chelm, the staff of Moses, and a magical seashell that fills the world with the people who could have been born if only the Holocaust had never happened. It supplements all of this magic with real accounts that mirror the themes of those tales. The illustrations themselves are as precisely rendered and beautifully depicted as the writing.

Courage to Dream allows the reader to freely wish that things had been different, even as it points out the inherent danger of those wishes. It also highlights the acts of resistance by both Jews and non-Jews alike, beautifully depicting the reason we needed allies, resistance fighters, and the righteous who hid us despite the very real danger of death if discovered. The Jewish people need this book, especially now, with the rise of antisemitism, but so do other people who may not know as much as they should about the Holocaust. For students, parents, even non-Jewish family members, now more than ever this highly representative Jewish book is necessary. 
Illustration Editor Dena Bach adds: The images of the graphic novel are permeated with a somber feeling through the illustrator's interesting choice of a mottled beige paper as the background for the illustrations, rather the standard white page. It is as if to say that during the darkness of the Holocaust, even in these few tales of hope and resistance, it was nearly impossible for light to shine through.

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Reviewer Stacie Ramey is the award-winning author of The Sister Pact, which was named a YALSA 2016 Popular Paperback and a 2015 PSLA Top 40. Kirkus Reviews called her third book, The Secrets We Bury “A sensitive, funny, and sometimes awkwardly romantic story of survival and self-awareness” and also named it to its list of 13 YA Books Both You and Your Teen Will Enjoy. It’s My Life about a Jewish high school junior with cerebral palsy, won the 2020 Gold Medal of the Florida Book Award. Stacie lives in Wellington, Florida with her husband and an ever-changing number of rescue dogs.