Sumo by Thien Pham
Last seen on bookshelves sharing cover credit with National Book Award-finalist Gene Luen Yang on Yang’s latest, Level Up, Thien Pham makes his solo debut with this slim heartbreaking-to-heart-recovering tale across continents and cultures.
“What am I doing here,” Scott wonders as he wakes to another day of strenuous training with mostly-naked behemoth men following the absolute orders of a tiny-in-comparison UCLA-sweatshirt-wearing master. Welcome to the world of sumo somewhere in Japan. After being dumped by his longtime girlfriend when his NFL career didn’t happen, Scott made a radical decision to move to the other side of the world and reinvent himself.
Now in his new life, he’s passing out regularly and tired of doing the dishes. He can cook a mean pot of nabe, the food of choice for his fellow wrestlers, although he only seems to get the leftovers. His one new friend is the master’s daughter, whose UCLA education explains both her English and her father’s sweatshirts: “Where I come from UCLA sweatshirts are like FUBU for Asians,” Scott explains to a speechless Asami. [I had to look up that acronym, and I can’t give you the translation here because I’m not allowed to use that sort of language in print, tsk tsk (but hee hee ho ho!).]
With his recently dyed-to-black hair (and his new Japanese name, Hakugei), Asami notices Scott is looking more like a rikishi, a professional sumo. But he’s got to prove himself and get to the next level. The most important tournament of his career is on … “You better decide now if you want this,” his master warns, “because … if you don’t … you should leave now.”
Pham creates a simple, resonating, colorful palette for Scott’s life – a rich earthy brown for sumo, a distant shadowy periwinkle for his past, a welcoming slightly minty green for the present – which all ultimately comes together on the final pages, a collage of potential and promise.
Oh, and that final page handprint with the two kanji characters? That’s Hakugei, Scott’s new moniker … literally ‘white whale.’ Hmmm … I’m just translating here …
Readers: Young Adult, Adult