Sooley by John Grisham By John Grisham

“Give him some time. He's just a kid.”
“They're all kids, Ecko.”
“They are indeed, but this one is special.”

Still, venturing out on a raw, cold Sunday afternoon to watch two teams with losing records was not appealing to many fans. Months later, thousands would claim to have been there for his first game, but the number was closer to five hundred.
The first 85% of Sooley reads like a fairy tale. Samuel “Sooley” Sooleymon is a 17-year-old basketball player in war-torn South Sudan. He earns a spot on their U18 National team and gets to play in a tournament in Orlando. While Sooley and his new friends are in the US, rebels attack his village, kill his father, kidnap his sister, and send his mother and brothers fleeing to a Ugandan refugee camp. Grieving and unable to go home, Sooley accepts a scholarship offered by North Carolina Central University. With his natural talent and limitless work ethic, Sooley eventually begins to earn playing time, and his legend begins.

The first 85% of Sooley is a joy to read. There’s sadness to be sure with what is happening in South Sudan—and be prepared to learn some depressing real world facts about what’s happening there and in the neighboring refugee camps. But Sooley is a relentlessly optimistic character, always smiling, and the reader quickly falls under his spell. The middle portion when Sooley is playing and leading NCCU on its miracle tournament run was an absolute delight (even if Mr. Grisham flubbed a few basic tournament ideas: the University of Florida could simply never be a 16-seed, and a 10-seed can never play a 4-seed in the first weekend). You don’t need to know or like basketball to enjoy this feel good, inspiring story—it’s like The Blind Side or Rocky. But if you are a college basketball fan, it’s a great ride through a one-bid league, as if UMBC was being led by a 6’8” Steph Curry who averaged 40 points a game. Realistic? No, but an absolute delight.

And then.

And then in the final pages, Mr. Grisham apparently decided to take this beautiful fairy tale and make it into something else, a parable perhaps. Something bad happens, I won’t spoil what. But after texting my wife updates of this story as if it were a real tournament in real life, when the bad thing happens I texted: “I’m going to cut John Grisham’s heart out with a spoon. I can’t believe he took this sweet story and turned it into [redacted].” Realistic? I mean yeah, I guess, but I didn’t like it. At all.

So in the end, I really don’t know how I feel about Sooley. I loved it until I didn’t. Mr. Grisham rarely writes a book anymore that doesn’t have some kind of cause angle, but the one here fits perfectly. The story of what’s happening in South Sudan and the refugee crisis there really enhanced Sooley’s character. Recommended I think, but please go into the book with your guard up, prepared for a late emotional sucker punch. John Grisham I know that it has been said many times before, but John Grisham is a master storyteller. He has a way of bringing his characters to life with his words. Sooley is a very different type of book for Grisham, although I have now discovered it is not his first book about sport. His love of the game of basketball shines through in this emotional novel that will break your heart.

Samuel Sooleyman is 17 when his dream of playing basketball in America comes true. He leaves his family in Sudan and travels to the US to play in a showcase, where he needs to impress to earn a scholarship to stay. He is a very talented player, and can jump higher than most other players. But tragedy strikes his family while he is away. His village is ransacked and his father is murdered. His sister is taken by rebels and his mother escapes with his 2 younger brothers to a refugee camp. He immediately wants to go home but this is a chance of a lifetime and what could he do if he returns. So he stays and throws everything into his game, practicing whenever her can to be better, to be the best - for himself and to make his family proud.

You will fall in love with Sooley, I certainly did. He is a loveable, strong willed character and he knows what he wants. His family and basketball are the most important things to him. The US is like another planet to him and he struggles to find his way through a normal teenage lifestyle. He is not a character that I will forget.

Thanks to Hachette Australia for sending me a copy of this book to read. John Grisham John Grisham, master of the courtroom thriller, is back with another of his standalone novels that leaves the law on the sidelines. Tackling a stunning story of a young African boy’s dream to play basketball and fostering a well-paced tale to exemplify that dreams can come true, Grisham offers up a jaw-dropping piece that is full of action, as well as emotional ups and downs. Grisham shows his versatility with this piece and pulls on some wonderful research while entertaining the reader until the final chapter.

Sam­uel Sooleymon loves to play basketball, but has not been able to hone his skills, as he lives in war-town South Sudan. When he is given a chance to travel to the United States to play in a tournament, Samuel leaps at the opportunity, leaving his family behind. The Sooleymon family are proud of Samuel and he soon becomes the talk of the town.

While Samuel and his teammates do a decent job, their eyes are opened to the opportunities that America has to offer. Through some fast talking by his coach, using connections that he has, Samuel is offered the chance to stay in America on a basketball scholarship at a small college in North Carolina. All this, while new violence erupts in South Sudan, leaving the Sooleymon family in serious trouble.

While he is panicked, Samuel is counselled to stay in America and pursue his basketball dreams, in hopes that he will be able to rescue his family at a later time. Samuel, who is soon given the moniker ‘Sooley’ by those at the college, works hard to better his mediocre basketball skills in hopes of playing. Hours of practice and motivation to save his family allows Sooley to focus all his attention on the court.

While the Sooleymon family are displaced because of the ongoing violence, they soon learn of Samuel’s successes and he becomes a hero for everyone. Hype and media attention grow, so much that those in the African nation take notice and use his success as a rallying cry for their own obstacles.

While Sooley and his teammates make an improbable run through an important basketball tournament, all eyes are on the tall, South Sudanese player who has captured the hearts of everyone watching. Sooley cannot do it alone, but he is eager to make a difference, while never forgetting his motivation, to save the family he loves so much. However, the rise to glory comes with a cost, one that Sooley may not be able to handle.

John Grisham has long captured my attention for great legal novels that push the limits of the justice system. There are times when he can dazzle while leaving gavels and closing arguments out of the narrative. This is one such occasion, as Grisham tells a heart touching story about determination and how one young man can make all the difference in the world, simply by putting his heart into everything he does.

Sooley is a well-developed character who sees a great deal throughout the novel. From his early days in South Sudan, Sooley learns the importance of hard work, as well as maturing and trying to make a name for himself. Themes of growing up, prioritising, and the pull of fame enter the story at various points, forcing Sooley to find his own path and make mistakes along the way. Many readers will surely find themselves drawn to the story and its protagonist, who is sure to go through a number of emotions along the journey, with an emotional ending.

Grisham packs a punch in this novel with a number of key moments throughout the narrative. There is so much to synthesise that I cannot even begin to list everything that happens. The narrative builds well and gains momentum as the plot takes a few twists. While I am used to cut-throat action, Grisham offers up some wonderfully warm and emotional moments to help push the story along. Mixing in some action and a great deal of thrills, the story moves effectively to its climax, which will have many readers captivated. While I will always love a good Grisham legal thriller, this was a refreshing example that some authors can step outside of their genre and still perform magically!

Kudos, Mr. Grisham, for another winner. I cannot wait to see what else you have brewing, outside of your legal thrillers.

Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: John Grisham Sooley follows 17 year old Sudanese basketball player, Samuel Sooleymon (Sooley), who has the chance to travel to America for an international tournament and be scouted by college coaches. While he’s a great player in Sudan, he’s not up to par with most of the others at the tournament. He also receives devastating news about his family back in Sudan when he’s in the US. This of course shifts Sooley’s focus from basketball to family — Heeding the advice from his coaches to stay put for now due to the dangers and limited communications in Sudan, Sooley commits to do whatever it takes to help his family, including playing for and working at North Carolina Central College.

Sooley is different than the handful of Grisham legal stories I’ve read over the years — The basketball focus is heavy here. As an avid bball fan, I enjoyed this, but can see how others may not enjoy it at the same level.

Sooley is a classic underdog story — You want to root for this young, ambitious man who has been through so much already. The story took some turns I did not see coming, and didn’t necessarily like, but overall, it was a good read. John Grisham Way too many detailed descriptions of basketball games and a really stupid ending. John Grisham


Summary Sooley by John Grisham

New York Times bestselling author John Grisham takes you to a different kind of court in his first basketball novel. Samuel Sooley Sooleymon is a raw, young talent with big hoop dreams...and even bigger challenges off the court.

In the summer of his seventeenth year, Sam­uel Sooleymon gets the chance of a lifetime: a trip to the United States with his South Sudanese teammates to play in a showcase basket­ball tournament. He has never been away from home, nor has he ever been on an airplane. The opportunity to be scouted by dozens of college coaches is a dream come true.
Samuel is an amazing athlete, with speed, quick­ness, and an astonishing vertical leap. The rest of his game, though, needs work, and the American coaches are less than impressed.
During the tournament, Samuel receives dev­astating news from home: A civil war is raging across South Sudan, and rebel troops have ran­sacked his village. His father is dead, his sister is missing, and his mother and two younger brothers are in a refugee camp.
Samuel desperately wants to go home, but it's just not possible. Partly out of sympathy, the coach of North Carolina Central offers him a scholar­ship. Samuel moves to Durham, enrolls in classes, joins the team, and prepares to sit out his freshman season. There is plenty of more mature talent and he isn't immediately needed.
But Samuel has something no other player has: a fierce determination to succeed so he can bring his family to America. He works tirelessly on his game, shooting baskets every morning at dawn by himself in the gym, and soon he's dominating everyone in practice. With the Central team los­ing and suffering injury after injury, Sooley, as he is nicknamed, is called off the bench. And the legend begins.
But how far can Sooley take his team? And will success allow him to save his family?
Gripping and moving, Sooley showcases John Grisham's unparalleled storytelling powers in a whole new light. This is Grisham at the top of his game. Sooley by John Grisham

John Grisham’s latest novel released this past week and, like always, rocketed to the top of the NYT bestseller’s list. Unlike most of his novels, Sooley is not a legal thriller but a sports novel focusing on a fictional South Sudanese basketball player. Grisham has made these forays into sports before—Calico Joe (baseball), Playing for Pizza (football), and Bleachers (football)—but they were smaller, shorter endeavors at around 50,000 words. Sooley is a full-length novel birthed out of the COVID-19 pandemic and the cancellation of 2020 March Madness. Grisham, an avid sports fan, decided to fill the time spent not watching sports toward writing this sports story. To add in an interesting second storyline, Grisham chose to have the titular Sooley—Samuel Sooleyman—come from the war-torn country of South Sudan, home to basketball greats Manute Bol and Luol Deng.

The premise is a promising one, because Grisham is able to tell two contrasting stories. The first story, after Sooley’s work ethic leads to a position on the national team and a college scholarship, combines a fish-out-of-water story with an immigration story with an escaped-the-hood story wrapped out the Cinderella story of a March Madness to remember. The second story is about Sooley’s family in South Sudan. Shortly after Sooley leaves, raiders burn his hometown, killing his father and kidnapping his sister. His mother and brothers escape, eventually making their way to a refugee camp. It’s an interesting study in contrasts that highlights two vastly different lives.

A question I kept asking myself as I read this novel was “Do serious, nuanced themes require serious, nuanced storytelling? Sooley, for all its thematic elements dealing with the Sudanese refugee crisis, doesn’t really deal with it in any substantive way. He has this deep and tragic storyline and its never used to its full potential or talked about with depth. My reluctant answer is “No, not always.” If Grisham did so, his books wouldn’t be at the top of the NYT list. They wouldn’t be “easy reading.” And in that, many would have even less awareness of the refugee crisis in South Sudan than the little Grisham gives them.

Think deeply enough about Sooley and you’ll uncover a plot that reveals the elitism of American society. Sooley has value to America as an entertainer. And not even a particularly good one. He’s a third-string guard for a small-time university. But because he has the potential to entertain, all roadblocks to his immigration and citizenship are cleared. Meanwhile, there are thousands of refugees—Sooley’s brothers and mother included—who have no value to the United States because they cannot play basketball. It’s a poignant contrast, but one that Grisham fails to draw out.

The first three-quarters of the novel progress in standard sports book/movie fashion. Sooley is not a good basketball player, but he’s got height (you can’t teach that) and he’s got a great work ethic (which makes him teachable at everything else). He makes the most of the opportunities he’s given and it leads to an improbable run through their conference and into March Madness. Unfortunately, Grisham gives us very little in the way of how this happens. Sooley, for all the weightiness and trauma behind his story, seems not to feel any of it. He plays a mediocre season then, suddenly and magically, he begins to hit threes (which Grisham repeatedly and annoyingly calls “bombs”) at a rate that would be unbelievable if Steph Curry wasn’t a real person. It’s all just a bit much and Grisham doesn’t do the work of convincing the reader to suspend disbelief.

Nonetheless, I was willing to call this an average, rah-rah sports novel—one that will sell well, then you’ll see hundreds of copies in your used book stores in a few months—until the last quarter when Sooley took an incredible twist. Perhaps it was because Grisham realized he’s virtually abandoned the B-plot in South Sudan. Perhaps it was because he’d overwritten his typical sports novella length and, not wishing to edit, deciding to add a shocking twist to push the novel to full-length. Whatever the case, it’s not a good decision.

What happens from the end of the March Madness run through the end makes absolutely no sense given the story that Sooley had set up so far. Then, just so as to not end on such a cynical note (which would have been preferable), he crams in a final subplot about Sooley’s mother and brothers so absurd it makes the rest of the book seem believable.

Grisham, you lost me at about 70,000 words in, which, with some editing, could have come in at the same size as your other sports novels. You had a simple, straightforward story that hid some deeper themes within it. Pushing the novel to full-length through a series of absurd twists took a perfectly serviceable but mediocre sports novel and turned it into an irredeemable mess. John Grisham I am in the middle of a reading slump which has lending itself to a reviewing slump! I finished this book weeks ago but have not been inspired to review it . . . or any others I have finished in that time. This is not a reflection on the book, it is just where my head is at right now.

This book is another entry in Grisham’s sports series of books. Along with Bleachers, Calico Joe, and Playing for Pizza – this book helps to firmly plant Grisham in a genre other than legal thrillers. I have loved all of this sports books and I think he does a pretty good job with them. In fact, lately I have been kind of lukewarm on his legal dramas, so Sooley is some of his best recent work in my opinion.

This time the sport is college basketball and you should give it a try if you are a fan of the sport. It also touches a lot on the situation international refugees go through and the contrast between life in war torn countries and the United States. So, while there is a lot of sports to be enjoyed here, there is also a lot to be learned about the world.

If you are just a fan of Grisham’s legal dramas, you may not enjoy this one. But I think it is worth giving it a try no matter what your interests.
John Grisham I'm not an avid sports fan so I was reluctant with Sooley, a story about a young basketball talent from South Sudan.

GR friend Tim, referred this book as his favorite Grisham ever so obviously I have to give it a chance. I love Grisham legal thrillers in general and this is my first sport story by him.

I'm glad I decided to read it, although I haven't a single clue what's going on during basketball games, but Sooley is character driven and I enjoyed the story, a human story. 🏀 John Grisham WOW! First, it helps if you are any sort of sports fan. Without a doubt, this is my favorite Grisham ever. 10 of 10 stars! John Grisham What can I say?
Love it or hate it, I will understand.
This is not a courtroom drama.
This is not the usual book that we expect from Grisham.
But one thing is for sure, Grisham is an amazing storyteller.
There were plenty of dramas and the conclusion was truly heartbreaking.
But if you are not into sports, especially basketball, you may have a hard time enjoying this book, unless you have no problem skimming (expect lots of skimming!).
I’m not a fan of basketball, however, because the author describes everything with such skill and passion, I was completely absorbed by the storyline. I even had goosebumps when Sooley hit the basket
The development of the storyline is terrific.
I loved the main character, Samuel Sooleymon.
I was truly entertained and I enjoyed this work.
The best part is that I had no expectations. I did not read any review or the synopsis.
I went blind and I was surprised. John Grisham