Sooley, by John Grisham

Nine stars

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.

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