Cracking the Bell

Cracking the Bell
Age Range
Release Date
September 10, 2019
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Friday Night Lights meets Concussion in this powerful and important novel by Geoff Herbach, author of the Stupid Fast series, exploring the dangerous concussion crisis in football through the eyes of a high school team captain. Isaiah loves football. In fact, football saved Isaiah’s life, giving him structure and discipline after his sister’s death tore his family apart. But when Isaiah gets knocked out cold on the field, he learns there’s a lot more to lose than football. While recovering from a concussion, Isaiah wonders what his life would look like without the game. All his friends are on the team, and Isaiah knows they can’t win without him. The scholarship offer from Cornell is only on the table if he keeps playing. And without football, what would keep his family together? What would prevent him from sliding back into the habits that nearly destroyed him? Isaiah must decide how much he’s willing to sacrifice for the sport that gave him everything, even if playing football threatens to take away his future.

Editor review

1 review
Football vs. Life
Overall rating
Writing Style
Isaiah's family has struggled after the death of his sister in a car accident that wasn't her fault. The parents divorced, and Isaiah got in so much trouble that he had to spend some time institutionalized and was finally given the choice by his father-- either play football, or stay in the institution until he graduated. Football has been good for Isaiah. It has given him structure, a support group, and a long term goal of playing at college. When his poor tackling technique (head down!) causes him to sustain a significant concussion, he tries to hide it, getting up after being knocked out on the field, and continuing about his evening even though he later has no recollection of his actions. When he throws up the next day and feels unable to concentrate or even stand up for too long, his mother takes him to the doctor, who says that the concussion on top of earlier ones puts him at greater risk in the future, and that he would advise Isaiah not play football any more. That's enough for his mother, who doesn't want to lose another child, but Isaiah and his father are unwilling to give up the activity. Isaiah does a lot of soul searching about his sister's death, his relationship with the troubled Grace, and his plans for the future if he decides to quit football.
Good Points
Herbach writes tremendous Young Adult novels about characters who love sports and use them as a framework for their very existence. This is so true of many young people, and this depth of involvement in sports is rarely shown in books. To then take this focus away from a character because of a very current and real concern about the lasting impact of concussions is brilliant. Isaiah is a character with a troubled past who has been able to turn things around through his participation in football, and watching as he determines whether he can maintain these positive changes without the sport is fascinating. The varied cast supporting characters work with Isaiah in an interesting way; they are all people Isaiah cares about, but they all seem somehow less important to him than football, with the exception of Grace.

There's just enough football descriptions to hold the interest of sports fans, who will hopefully use this book to think about their own health concerning head trauma. Like Greenwald's Game Changer, Lupica's Lone Stars, Korman's Pop, Northrop's Plunked or Weyn's Full Impact, Cracking the Bell considers the many facets of traumatic brain injury and its effect on young sports enthusiasts.
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