Hoops of Steel by John Foley

Hoops of SteelReading level: 5.5
Genre: Sports, realistic fiction
ELL-Friendly: No
Library recommendation: High school

Goodreads summary:

Basketball is Jackson O’Connell’s life. Much more than a game, it allows him to cross barriers of class and race, and make new friends from the rival high school. Driven by his passion for hoops, he can almost forget his alcoholic father and a night of violence that tore his family apart. Jackson’s senior year is plagued by volcanic zits, girl shyness, and rumors that isolate him from most of the school. And when team politics keep him off the starting lineup of the basketball team, his hopes for a scholarship plummet like an airball. His self-confidence in tatters, Jackson makes errors on and off the court that almost cost him a friend and the girl of his dreams. With no rulebook to follow, Jackson must learn how to rebound from injustice and anger . . . and start shooting from the heart.

As you may have gathered, Hoops of Steel is a basketball book. Now, I enjoy basketball quite a bit, and I’m proud to say I have gone to almost every single home basketball game (both men’s and women’s teams) at my university for the past 5 years. Men’s Division II champions in 2012! Anyway. Despite my interest in basketball and general coming-of-age stories, this book fell flat for me.

Hoops of Steel probably resonates with die-hard basketball players, especially more mature middle schoolers up through high school. The basketball jargon was too much for me to understand, and the problems faced by Jackson just weren’t…big enough. Oh, I’m sorry you’re on the bench but still playing sometimes. Oh, I’m sorry you blew off your girlfriend but fix the problem 2 pages later. And then the underlying issues of what happened to Jackson’s family and to Gerry at the end were underplayed (no pun intended). So I was pretty bored. But again, for kiddos who play basketball and are conscious about the way they look and act around girls, this book may be a winner.

The author is a teacher, and I enjoyed the bits about Gerry’s amazing teaching. I even liked the part about Gerry getting in trouble for making a girl mad, because these things happen all the time. A student lies about a teacher doing something inappropriate, and the teacher gets fired, sued, or blacklisted. It’s the reality, and it’s important that people know how unfair it is for teachers to live and work in these conditions.

Hoops of Steel is not ELL friendly because many of the sentences are fragments because they’re missing a subject. The author wrote this way because it’s how people talk and how Jackson things and thus narrates. And again, the vocabulary used to describe basketball is just too much.

I’m toying with the idea of getting a bunch of those colorful circle stickers used at garage sales and writing “PG-13” on them to place on books that have “mature content.” Of course, those books will just be snatched up quicker, but at least students will be warned. The way I see it, students should have some accountability in what they read, not just the teacher. If a student picks up a book with adult content and didn’t know about it, then the parents might be mad at the teacher. But if the student KNOWS he/she isn’t supposed to read those books and does so anyway, then it’s more the student’s fault.

Where am I going with this? If I follow through with this idea, Hoops of Steel would have one of those stickers. It’s got a few N-words (though each time the guy uses that word, he’s told off), and several references to body parts that ought to be under clothing for most of the day. And what’s with Angelo liking to walk around naked? So weird. The book has a good amount of swearing and a few F-bombs. All these things together, the content is better suited for high school, and the characters are in high school, too, so that makes sense.

Hoops of Steel is my fourth book of the 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge hosted by Bookish.

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