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Sumo Paperback – December 11, 2012
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You certainly wouldn’t expect a graphic novel about sumo wrestling, the very physical definition of excess in mass and irresistible force, to be as thoughtfully understated as Pham’s first complete work (he drew Gene Luen Yang’s Level Up, 2011, with aplomb). Yet . . . Reeling from both a bad breakup and the failure to make it in the NFL, Scott heads to Japan to begin a career as a rikishi (sumo wrestler). Now an outsider struggling to master the art and culture of his new calling, itself a dying tradition, he finds he can’t outrun the crisis of coming-of-age, though help comes from the friendship-plus of his coach’s daughter. With a simple drawing style that gets a great boost from effective single-tone coloring, Pham uses blocky figures and symbolic nods to convey the graceful contradictions in size and speed, strength and small gestures that make sumo as much an art form as a sport. There is a gemlike simplicity in the deeply personal yet reserved story of Scott’s fruition, and a reminder to never mistake quiet for small. Grades 9-12. --Ian Chipman
"Here is a gemlike simplicity in the deeply personal yet reserved story of Scott’s fruition, and a reminder to never mistake quiet for small."―Booklist
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Top Customer Reviews
If Scott wants to stay in Japan and continue his wrestling career, he needs to believe in himself. Yes, Scott is the Rocky of sumo wrestling. Fortunately, the story is a lot more subtle than a Rocky movie.
Old romance, new romance, and sumo wrestling. Not much of a plot, but Thien Pham manages to weave the story elements together in a way that's honest and touching. It's a simple story told mostly without words, but it doesn't lack emotion or drama. Sumo is like a graphic version of haiku: the elegant simplicity of the form is just as important as the words used to convey the poet's meaning. The story ends decisively but indirectly in a nifty piece of orchestration.
The art consists of simple line drawings without much background, but it's perfect for the story. I like the way the scenes are color coded. Scott's life in America is colored in blue, his life as a sumo is colored in orange, his life with Asami is colored in green. The colored panels come together at the end, as does Scott's life. There is just enough art and just enough story to convey meaning; any more would have destroyed the delicate balance that gives Sumo a haiku feeling.
Pham is just such a genuine, delicate storyteller. The art complements the mood of the book perfectly. My husband and I barely discussed this book after we read it, because all we could do was look at each other and say "Whoa. That was REALLY good." (This is why we don't do video reviews. You're welcome.)
The approach to the story is very different that what someone would normally expect. The story follows Scott through three key turning points in his life and only those three points. We see Scott as he makes his decision to leave all that he knows behind, the first few weeks of his new life, and the point where he must make the next step in his journey. Even though many readers are not likely to have experience with sumo wrestling we can relate to the struggles that Scott goes through to find his place in life, to find the balance that he seeks. And at the end of the story the three sections weave together to create a greater story and the hint of something greater.
The great thing that Thien does is the colors used on the pages help the reader know which time period the story is currently in. The orange/brown shows the present, Scott's training in Japan; the blue pages show Scott's past back in the states; and the green pages depict Scott upon first arriving in Japan those first few weeks of trying to figure out where he is. Even better is that the page icons change based upon where you are in the story, with a plate being associated with the present, a water tower for the states, and a fish for those early days. It's an interesting way to tell a story and one that I've seen Jason Shiga (the color changes at least) use before, but Thien's method seems to be more effective to me.
Thien's art style in this book reminds me a lot of old woodcuts, both German and Asian. German with the seemingly heavy figures and the mostly monochromatic pages, and Asian because of the line use that forms the characters and the backgrounds...seemingly wandering around the pages and giving emotion to the people that we meet. I really enjoy the heavy, yet fluid grace of the artwork. I also really dig the big wide margins on the page, because it helps draw focus to the story and it helps make the page icons stand out a bit more and help them feel like a part of the story. Although I initially thought the book should be printed on something with a nice texture to mimic woodcuts, but I like the semigloss paper that they chose, it really makes the colors stand out well.
This is one of those books that when I first read it I felt like I was missing something. Perhaps it was the fact that stories weaved back and forth and I missed the color changes, or perhaps it's the fact that I wasn't quite sure to make of the ending of the story. So I reread it and upon doing so found the things that I was missing and discovered the depth to this short, yet powerful story. This is going to be one of those books that isn't for everyone, because some folks won't like the setup of weaving back and forth through three points in time. And yet it is a book that everyone should read at least once and ponder on. And for those that enjoy it they'll really treasure it. 4 out of 5 stars.
ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Aiko! My girl.
You are a princess and star.
As it is fundamental.
And responsibly at all times.Read more
it is definitely worth a read.
It is a good introduction to sumo wrestling.
The art is not that complicated either.