Cracking the Bell – Geoff Herbach – Katherine Tegen Books – Published 10 September 2019




Isaiah loves football. In fact, football saved Isaiah’s life, giving him structure and discipline after his sister’s death tore his family apart. Now, nothing makes Isaiah happier than setting up the perfect defense and delivering a big hit. But when Isaiah gets knocked out cold on the field, he learns there’s a lot more to lose than football.

While recovering from another concussion, Isaiah wonders what his life would look without football. All his friends are on the team, and Isaiah knows they can’t win without him. There’s also the scholarship offer from Cornell, which 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?

As Isaiah begins to piece his life together with help from unexpected places, he 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.

My thoughts

I love YA sports novels and Geoff Herbach knows exactly how to write one that is on-trend, poignant, realistic, gritty and doesn’t pull its punches. And that’s exactly what I got from Cracking The Bell.

Isaiah lives for football. It’s what keeps him busy and away from the temptations that come with down time. It saved him when he fell into bad habits and did things he wishes he could forget. It helps keep what remains of his broken family together. It keeps him from mourning too deeply his sister. But when Isaiah sustains a serious concussion, the lifeline of football may be removed from him and Isaiah must decide if the safety of football are worth the risks.

Cracking The Bell doesn’t delve too deeply into the concussion issue surrounding football. Yes, it is about a football player sustaining a concussion and then needing to decide if he is going to continue playing football, but this book is about Isaiah. Isaiah’s concussion and Isaiah’s decision, not about the issue on a larger, grander, whole-country scale. I think it was a great way to raise the issue without taking a side or becoming research-based or argument based. It stays as Isaiah’s story.

Isaiah is an intriguing character. A male protagonist who is honest with himself, even if that means he acknowledges that he sometimes is not honest with himself. Written in first person and third person journal entries he writes, this book’s perspective is firmly situated in Isaiah’s head and voice. He is a relatable teen guy, I felt. Flawed, scared, searching for answers and trying desperately not to mess up again, even as he kamakazies into another dangerous, out-of-control situation.

With themes of friendship, romantics relationships and the complications of family breakdown and grief, this YA book is an excellent book to place into young readers’ hands, especially for teen guys who are looking for something engaging and current, as well as sports related.

The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.

More information

Category: Young adult fiction

Genre: Sport.

Themes: Football, family, grief, concussions, family breakdown, juvenile delinquents, divorce, death, drunk driving, alcoholism, anger managements, friendship, college, romance.

Reading age guide: Ages 13/14 and up.

Advisory: Frequent sexual references. Frequent drug and alcohol references. Violence. Coarse language, f*** (12), sh** (101), as***** (7), wh*** (2), bit** (1), di** (5), pi** (6), bas**** (2).

Published: 10 September 2019 by Katherine Tegen Books.

Format: Hardcover, ebook. 256 pages.

ISBN: 9780062453143

Find it on Goodreads