Sumo by Thien Pham

Sumo by Thien Pham

Sumo, by Thien Pham, is a quiet tale about a sport of epic proportions. Scott is a twenty-something football player who has missed his shot at NFL glory. Now that his girlfriend has left him, he has no sense of himself anymore. So like any lost youth pining for a change, he moves to Japan to become a sumo wrestler.

The life of a sumo wrestler is a highly-ordered one. Apprentice wrestlers do many of the chores, cooking and cleaning for their professional superiors, in hopes that they will also be able to compete. In these chores, Scott finds a greater balance of life than he had in America, where most days involved a bar and little ambition. He also finds a connection with his coach's daughter.

We jump back and forth through time using different colored panels to establish our time and place. This culminates in a beautiful synchronization of three different scenes as Scott participates in his first competitive sumo match. 

More directed at high schoolers or early twenty-somethings than middle schoolers, Pham's story is not fast paced, but it has heart. In the book's quietest moments it offers a lot of room for self-reflection. Using colors to establish a different time has been used before. One example was the anti-romance graphic novel Empire State, by Jason Shiga. Pham's use of this technique adds to a simplistic beauty that is also conveyed in Sumo's text and linework.

Another teen book that deals with an athlete having to make a life change is the novel Curveball, by Jordan Sonnenblick, which I highly recommend. Sumo is a quick and peaceful read for those who, like Scott, would benefit from change of scenery.