It took me a while to shake off the cravings from my Brotherband experience. For the first few chapters of Ishmael I just found myself wishing they would take to the sea in some inventively designed boat and fight some pirates. The nerds won me over though and eventually I resolved myself to the fact that swords had been replaced by mathematics.
For those who know the rules of the Award (specifically 1.3.1 Note iii), you will be familiar with the condition that for series books to be included in this award, they need to be able to stand alone. I tested this by skipping the second book and found that I really hadn’t missed anything. There are a few references to Ishmael’s dad’s band but these were fairly well explained. I am not sure if I would have had the same experience if I hadn’t read any of the Ishmael books but seriously, if you haven’t read any of the Ishmael books, what are you doing with your life?
This edition follows the boys as they finish their final years of high school. The drama is based around whether they can win the coveted College Cup for their beloved teacher – Ms Tarango. It is a gentle story and one that is about as far from murder on the high seas as Ophelia is from happiness.
This is one of the great virtues of the Ishmael stories, they don’t resort to violence to solve the problems. In the novels the teenagers are essentially like teenagers are – nice. Take this anecdote for example: two of the main characters, Ishmael and Razz, unwittingly end up with video footage of one of their peers undressing. One of the characters wants to watch it, the other puts forward the case that, if you find yourself with a digital image (photo or video) of someone, you need to first consider what they would want you to do with it. You could base a whole cybersafety on this incident as Bauer raises the bar of acceptable behaviour – teenagers need to be confronted by the concept that if this is how people should behave when they get this sort of footage by accident, then maybe it is really wrong for them to be taking a photos up girl’s skirts and putting them on their facebook pages.
That being said, these kids are pretty puritanical. Either the characters in this story are inauthentic or they inhabit a different planet to those created by authors like Phillip Gwynn and Scot Gardner. I just couldn’t get over how nerdy these kids were. I know that they are meant to be nerdy but they act less like nerdy teenagers and more like fairly daggy dads.
This books wraps up all of the loose ends in the books and, like final episodes and reunion shows, everyone is a bit too interested in loving themselves and each other to do things properly. Hoops of steel lacks flow and direction and it is hard not to stop half way through and ask ‘where is this going?’. It also underuses the extended metaphor that is going on with the play Hamlet. More people are killed in the final act of Hamlet than were killed during the entire second world war (see chart) and not a single person is killed in this book. I know that I was praising the lack of violence at the start of this review but hey, people are complicated and I guess I am just trying to say something about the duality of man (language warning on this link).
Before this review becomes as lacklustre as the Hoops itself I will conclude it here: this is essential reading for Ishmael fans, this is a nice, funny book for everyone else. That is all.