Sooley by John Grisham

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John Grisham has made a name as a writer of renown, with a number of his legal-world drama stories made into movies. This book takes another of his interests – sport, and specifically basketball, and weaves it around a young talented player from South Sudan. Samuel Sooleyman (Sooley) has made his way on to a youth team representing South Sudan, and able to play in the USA in a competition that might give the team a chance to be noticed by USA scouts that could rescue them from the difficult circumstances of their lives in villages and towns in their own country. While he is in the USA his family are attacked by rebels and eventually become refugees as they escape their own country. Sooley’s life is also turned upside down and the hopes for his future now also include hopes to rescue his family. Amidst the incredible world of the College basketball system and with the wealth of the USA in full view there is an unbelievable trajectory for Sooley as he goes from being an ordinary player from a background of poverty, but blessed with height and a poor shooting record, to become a spectacular game-changer with dreams of an NBA contract.

This book is both uplifting and sad as it paints the incredible disparity between the worlds of Sooley’s homeland and his new adopted country. It also reads like a biography with detail of all the games played and the minutiae of the Basketball world for the young central character and his close friends and team mates. The complications of the draft system for the talented player and the wealth that floods in his direction are also mystifying and confronting. This could easily be a fairytale journey, but Grisham has cleverly made us wonder all the way to the end.

Recommended, for lovers of basketball, aged 15+.

Themes: Basketball, South Sudan, Refugees, Professional sport.

Carolyn Hull