Written by: Akim Aliu and Greg Anderson Elysee
Art by: Karen De La Vega
Published by: Scholastic, Kaepernick Publishing
As a long-time hockey fan, I was familiar with Akim Aliu’s story well before the news of said story was brought to life in comic form by writer Greg Anderson Elysee and artist Karen De La Vega. The son of a Nigerian father and Ukrainian mother, Aliu was a promising hockey prospect whose career never quite took off for reasons both public and (at the time) hidden. These reasons are explored in depth in Dreamer, the new graphic novel memoir from Colin Kaepernick’s publishing company, Kaepernick Publishing, and Scholastic.
Opening with a series of flashbacks highlighting critical moments in Aliu’s relationship with hockey, Dreamer‘s story is told via a delightful first-person narrative, with Aliu occasionally breaking the fourth wall to provide additional levity. This levity works hand in hand with De La Vega’s whimsical art to firmly establish the book’s appeal to its youthful target audience. Despite the lightness and cute art, no mistake should be made, as Dreamer has its share of serious moments, as to be expected, given the subject matter.
Hockey’s inherent violence is not glossed over, and the racial hatred Aliu faces throughout his life is displayed. While particular words are censored, anyone who knows enough will know what is being said, while those still innocent enough not to know can at least tell things are being said that should not be said. As a hockey fan and sports fan in general, one aspect of the book I found particularly interesting was the glimpses into the world of youth hockey. These parts of the story showed how young players are assimilated into a “pro” environment early on, going through youth team drafts and moving from locale to locale, living with hosting “billet” families.
One of the book’s emotional breakpoints comes at the NHL draft, where Aliu’s dreams are finally set to come to a head. There’s a bit of insight revealed that I had never considered but makes perfect sense in hindsight and will likely affect my future viewing of such events.
Overall, Dreamer is an excellent all-ages book that is well recommended to any young reader out there. Aliu’s story is inspiring and vividly brought to life by a masterful storyteller in Elysee. De La Vega’s art is delightful and compliments the story well. Not to be left out, Marcus Williams provides a beautiful cover. Like a top hockey line, all involved put in a significant shift leading to a stunning goal of a book!
William Satterwhite is the creator of the superhero webcomic Stealth and a freelance designer, internet consultant and illustrator living in Douglasville, Ga. His professional website can be found at www.williamsatterwhite.info.