Reviews for Sooley

by John Grisham

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

It's no secret that Grisham is a baseball fan, but it's not as well known that he’s also an enthusiastic follower of college basketball. In his new novel, he tells the story of 17-year-old Samuel Sooleymon, a Sudanese boy who, like so many of his friends, dreams of playing basketball in the U.S. Unlike many of those friends, Sooley sees his dream come true, only to be hit by tragedy: a civil war brings devastation to his South Sudanese village, and Sooley finds himself, all the way on the other side of the world, fighting to be the best basketball player he can be so he can save his family. It’s an intensely moving story, told with the same eye for character and descriptive detail Grisham brings to his crime novels. His occasional forays into general fiction are usually interesting, but this one is considerably more than that. It’s skillfully written, with a deeply compelling central character and a story that is full of raw emotion and suspense. A film version seems almost obligatory, but don’t wait for that.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Any new Grisham novel draws readers across genres, and this one will add sports fans to his legion of devotees.


Library Journal
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The 17-year-old Samuel "Sooley" Sooleymon gets the chance of a lifetime when he's selected to play for South Sudan in a youth basketball tournament held in the United States. It's a dream opportunity for Sooley, who hopes to be scouted by coaches and perhaps be recruited to play college basketball. As Sooley tries to showcase his talents in the States, tragedy strikes in South Sudan, where a raging civil war leads to his father's death; then his sister disappears, and his mother and brothers become refugees. Sooley ends up with a college scholarship, and he tirelessly works on his game in hopes of becoming successful enough to save his family. The juxtaposition of Sooley's American dream and his family's refugee tragedy is heartbreaking. This book features a lot of basketball descriptions and terminology that may be hard for non-fans to follow. However, there's room to appreciate Sooley's story even for readers who don't know what it means to "hit a jumper from the top of the key." Dion Graham's narration is superb. VERDICT This book is highly recommended for basketball fans. Fans of Grisham will also enjoy this latest display of storytelling prowess, even if the technical basketball aspects aren't as appreciated.—Sean Kennedy, Univ. of Akron Lib., OH


Publishers Weekly
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Grisham (A Time for Mercy) shoots an airball in this sappy novel about a South Sudanese teen’s journey from his impoverished home to the world of American sports. Samuel Sooleymon, 17, described as the best basketball player in his village of Lotta, is invited to try out for South Sudan’s national basketball team amid the civil war’s relative peace. Despite undeveloped passing and shooting skills, Sooleymon’s natural athleticism appeals to the national team’s coach, Ecko Lam. With Sooleymon away in the U.S. for an exhibition game, a rebel rampage through Lotta is described in grisly detail, with the fate of his family uncertain. When Sooleymon learns of the attack, he’s determined to return home, but Lam convinces him there’s nothing he can do. Eventually, he accepts a full scholarship at North Carolina Central, where he’s nicknamed Sooley, dedicates himself to practicing, and determines to gain attention from the NBA so he can earn the money needed to bring his family to the U.S. As Sooley’s star begins to rise, though, Grisham tosses in a jarring tragic episode, and clunky foreshadowing and thin characters, such as Sooley’s love interest, don’t help. This is a disappointing outing from a writer capable of much better. Agent: David Gernert, the Gernert Co. (Apr.)


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Legal eagle and mystery maven Grisham shifts gears with a novel about roundball.What possessed Grisham to stop writing about murder in the Spanish mossdripping milieus of the Deep South is anyones guess, and why he elected to write about basketball, one might imagine, speaks to some deep passion for the game. The depth of that love doesnt quite emerge in these pages, flat of affect, told almost as if a by-the-numbers biography of an actual player. As it is, Grisham invents an all-too-believable hero in Samuel Sooleymon, who plays his way out of South Sudan, a nation wrought by sectarian violenceSooley is a Dinka, Grisham instructs, of the largest ethnic class in the country, pitted against other ethnic groupsand mired in poverty despite the relative opulence of the capital city of Juba, with its tall buildings, vibrancy, and well-dressed people. A hard-charging but heart-of-gold coach changes his life when he arrives at the university there, having been dismissed earlier as a nonshooting guard. Soon enough Sooley is sinking three-pointers with alarming precision, which lands him a spot on an American college team. Much of the later portion of Grishams novel bounces between Sooleys on-court exploits, jaw-dropping as they are, and his efforts to bring his embattled family, now refugees from civil war, to join him in the U.S.; explains Grisham, again, Beatrice and her children were Dinka, the largest tribe in South Sudan, and their strongman was supposedly in control of most of the country, though evidently not the part where they lived. Alas, Sooley, beloved of all, bound for a glorious career in the NBA, falls into the bad company that sudden wealth and fame can bring, and it all comes crashing down in a morality play that has only the virtue of bringing this tired narrative to an end.Unlike baseball, basketball has contributed little to world literature. Call this Exhibit A. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Legal eagle and mystery maven Grisham shifts gears with a novel about roundball. What possessed Grisham to stop writing about murder in the Spanish moss–dripping milieus of the Deep South is anyone’s guess, and why he elected to write about basketball, one might imagine, speaks to some deep passion for the game. The depth of that love doesn’t quite emerge in these pages, flat of affect, told almost as if a by-the-numbers biography of an actual player. As it is, Grisham invents an all-too-believable hero in Samuel Sooleymon, who plays his way out of South Sudan, a nation wrought by sectarian violence—Sooley is a Dinka, Grisham instructs, of “the largest ethnic class in the country,” pitted against other ethnic groups—and mired in poverty despite the relative opulence of the capital city of Juba, with its “tall buildings, vibrancy, and well-dressed people.” A hard-charging but heart-of-gold coach changes his life when he arrives at the university there, having been dismissed earlier as a “nonshooting guard.” Soon enough Sooley is sinking three-pointers with alarming precision, which lands him a spot on an American college team. Much of the later portion of Grisham’s novel bounces between Sooley’s on-court exploits, jaw-dropping as they are, and his efforts to bring his embattled family, now refugees from civil war, to join him in the U.S.; explains Grisham, again, “Beatrice and her children were Dinka, the largest tribe in South Sudan, and their strongman was supposedly in control of most of the country,” though evidently not the part where they lived. Alas, Sooley, beloved of all, bound for a glorious career in the NBA, falls into the bad company that sudden wealth and fame can bring, and it all comes crashing down in a morality play that has only the virtue of bringing this tired narrative to an end. Unlike baseball, basketball has contributed little to world literature. Call this Exhibit A. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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