cover image Sooley


John Grisham. Doubleday, $28.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-385-54768-0

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.)