Book Review–Sumo

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, First Second, graphic novel | Posted on 30-09-2012

Sumo
Thien Pham
FirstSecond
December 2012

Scott had dreams of being a pro football player and when those dreams comes crashing down so does the rest of his world.  He doesn’t have a good job, his girlfriend dumped him, and about the only thing left to him is to move to Japan and become a sumo wrestler.  So…Scott leaves his old world behind him, even his name and hair color, to pursue this new dream.  And through the struggles and turmoils he endures, he begins to find a new focus in his world.

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