Note: I received an advance copy of the book from the author.
I was finishing this book as news broke about Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement from the NFL, and I couldn’t help but see the connections. Isaiah in Cracking the Bell isn’t a multimillionaire with a degree from Stanford—he’s a high school senior with a history of concussions in his life. Literal concussions from hitting and being hit in football. Figurative concussions from the deaths of family members and the unresolved grief that follows.
But like Andrew Luck, Isaiah grapples with questions of what is worth risking for football. Questions of what we walk toward and what we walk away from. And author Geoff Herbach raises the bigger societal questions of football’s role in our culture and our construction of masculinity. To Herbach’s credit, Cracking The Bell is not simply a jeremiad against football—the novel recognizes how concussive young lives can be, inside and outside of football, and how football has served as a place of recovery as well as a place of pain.
As a conflicted football fan myself, I appreciate how well Herbach captures the game—too many novels involving sports fail this first hurdle. Cracking The Bell is thoughtful, timely, and more lyrical than I expected. I will be sharing it with my high school freshmen tomorrow.