ISHMAEL AND THE HOOPS OF STEEL | MICHAEL GERARD BAUER | BOOK REVIEW

I have no idea how I know of this series of children’s books but for some reason I know about DON’T CALL ME ISHMAEL, perhaps when the god kids were growing up they were reading it and I read it to them. When Salty Popcorn is looking for a new reviewer, be it for books or movies, they have one simple task to audition, they must write me a review of their favourite or a recent book they have read. If I like the review and can see that applicant knows what they are doing, can spell, knows their theirs, they’res and there’s from their to, too’s and twos and I like the review I publish said review and add them to our list. And as such please join me in welcoming new Salty Kernel Deborah Day to the Salty Cob. Deborah will be reviewing books for Salty with a specialty in young adult content. This review is her audition review and is the conclusion to the stories of Ishmael Lesuer, titled ISHMAEL AND THE HOOPS OF STEEL from Michael Gerard Bauer, it was published back in 2011 but the bonus of the written word, they are always there. Enjoy Deb’s review……..all the best……..JK.

BY DEBORAH DAY

ISHMAEL AND THE HOOPS OF STEEL is the third installment of a teen trilogy set at St Daniel’s, a fictional Catholic boy’s high school. In this third book, Ishmael and his four mates negotiate their two senior years of high school. Published by Scholastic Australia ISHMAEL AND THE HOOPS OF STEEL was shortlisted for the Children’s Peace Literature Award 2011, and for the 2012 Children’s Book Council Australia Book of the Year for Older Reader. It is an unashamedly good natured and upbeat book that has many laugh out loud moments.

The author Michael Gerard Bauer is a Brisbane born and educated writer of Children’s and Young Adult novels. He attended Marist College Ashgrove prior to completing an Arts Degree with a major in English Literature and becoming a High School English teacher in Brisbane. His novels have been translated into twelve languages and are currently sold in over forty two counties. Many of his novels have been shortlisted or won Australian literary awards, and whilst his books are often used as classroom texts, they remain popular with individual readers.

The Ishmael series is no doubt an amalgamation of Bauer’s personal and observed experience of school life. For readers unacquainted with the series Ishmael Lesuer is the world’s only known sufferer of ILS, that is, Ishmael Lesuer’s Syndrome, a syndrome characterised by social awkwardness of the highest order. Ishmael’s friends serve as foils to his travails and include the maths and science nerd Prindabel, erudite fearless Scobie, the sporty good humoured phrase-mashing Razzman, and the reserved fantasy loving Kingsley. Additional characters include the clueless but enthusiastic Melvin Yip, the physically intimidating Papua and New Guinean volleyball recruit Mudman and of course the teachers who range from the sarcastic but fair Deputy Principal Mr Barker, the hard-nosed win-at-all-costs Sports Master Mr Hardcastle, the socially aware poetry loving Mr Guthrie, and the bright energetic and good-natured Miss Tarango.

 

ISHMAEL AND THE HOOPS OF STEEL BOOK COVER IMAGE
ISHMAEL AND THE HOOPS OF STEEL | MICHAEL GERARD BAUER | SALTY POPCORN BOOK REVIEW | BOOK COVER IMAGE

 

Bauer likes to reference literary greats. No doubt it is the teacher coming to the fore. Ishmael of course is named after the narrator of Herman Melville’s MOBY DICK, the lone survivor of Ahab’s vengeance quest. THE HOOPS OF STEEL is a clever reference to Shakespeare’s HAMLET, though the HOOPS OF STEEL also has several other meanings within the novel. Linking his modern characters to historical fiction is unapologetically aimed at inspiring and encouraging modern teenagers to engage with and see value in famous literary texts.

The language is rooted in teen vernacular which, along with frequent onomatopoeia and highly visual descriptions, makes it easy to imagine the numerous funny scenes. It is the sort of book that could easily be made into an afternoon teen drama by the ABC. The short chapters give the reader the sense that the book is rapidly progressing and no doubt this is intentional as the audience is unashamedly teenage boys who are not always known for their attention spans.

ISHMAEL AND THE HOOPS OF STEEL is not deep and meaningful. None of the characters really let you into their inner world but this doesn’t matter. Teenagers are superficial and too much seriousness would get in the way of the brisk and humorous tone of this book. Nevertheless the characters remain realistic and relatable.

Topics canvassed in ISHMAEL AND THE HOOPS OF STEEL include choices and consequences, loyalty and friendship, the transformative power of participation, relationships, homosexual coming out, and the end of school transition to adult life. The content is sometimes gross without being rude and the nascent sexuality of his characters is respectful and restrained rather than pornographic.  Bauer sandwiches teen issues with humorous vignettes staring his five protagonists in various permutations. There are numerous sections that read like improvised comedy that are so enjoyable to read that a chuckle is almost predictable.

If there is one fault of the Ishmael Series it would be that most of the female characters function only to bring the five main male characters out of their respective shells by inspiring them to be better, more creative, and more socially adept. But this is a minor flaw. The overarching themes in these novels is that it is important to be true to yourself, that individual differences can be celebrated, and that friends can help weather adversity.

In summary I would recommend all of Bauer’s Ishmael novels, but ISHMAEL AND THE HOOPS OF STEEL is the standout.  Whilst the novel is firmly aimed at adolescent boys it is a hugely enjoyable page turner for both genders. The book brought back many memories of my own high school days because the boys in this series are certainly similar to those I spent time in high school with. The short chapters, vernacular language and humour makes HOOPS OF STEEL accessible to even the most reluctant readers and I definitely laughed out loud a lot! Best of all the upbeat ending is refreshing without being saccharine.

 

4 Pops