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Cracking the Bell

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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 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.


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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 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.

30 review for Cracking the Bell

  1. 4 out of 5

    Madison

    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 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. Find more reviews, reading age guides, content advisory, and recommendations on my blog Madison's Library

  2. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    Many thanks to EdelweissPlus and the publisher for providing me with an eARC of this title for review. All opinions are my own. I was so very excited to see that Herbach had another sports-themed book coming out after I fell in love with his novel Hooper last year. This book tackles football and football-related head injuries, while also dealing with a family's grief process, the sadness of not knowing what to do next, and the pain that comes when you have to realize you can no longer continue Many thanks to EdelweissPlus and the publisher for providing me with an eARC of this title for review. All opinions are my own. I was so very excited to see that Herbach had another sports-themed book coming out after I fell in love with his novel Hooper last year. This book tackles football and football-related head injuries, while also dealing with a family's grief process, the sadness of not knowing what to do next, and the pain that comes when you have to realize you can no longer continue on in the way that you always have. Isaiah is a football star, a strong defensive player who is being recruited by some D1 schools, who knows that without football he'd be back in a juvenile detention center. He likes the structure of football and school, the knowledge that by working hard and keeping to his intense routine and schedule, he can keep his demons at bay and be successful. But now, after an intense hit and the resulting concussion, he worries that this part of his life might be over. If he can't play football, what can he do to deal with his feelings from his sister's accident all those years ago and his grandfather's murder? His parents' divorce? His mom's manipulations? His dad's abandonment? Told over the course of a week, in first person vignettes and third person journal entries, this is the story of growing up. Highly recommend, for sports fans AND realistic fiction fans. Great story. Some minor language throughout, but no sexual content. Main character is an 18 year old senior. Recommended for grades 8 and up.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Gary Anderson

    Although Geoff Herbach’s young-adult novels are consistently satisfying, his new book Cracking the Bell digs a little deeper and delivers a story as important as it is engaging. High school senior Isiah is moving on from his rough life of a few years ago. Isaiah’s family disintegrated when his sister and grandfather both died violently, one from a drunk driver and one as a murder victim. Isaiah turned in all the wrong directions trying to find myself, and his girlfriend Grace was just as messed Although Geoff Herbach’s young-adult novels are consistently satisfying, his new book Cracking the Bell digs a little deeper and delivers a story as important as it is engaging. High school senior Isiah is moving on from his rough life of a few years ago. Isaiah’s family disintegrated when his sister and grandfather both died violently, one from a drunk driver and one as a murder victim. Isaiah turned in all the wrong directions trying to find myself, and his girlfriend Grace was just as messed up as him. But football saves Isaiah. He throws himself into every aspect of the game, and as football becomes the magnetic center of Isaiah’s tenuous existence holding everything else in place, he also focuses on academics and abandons his previous vices. But when Isaiah takes a brutal hit while playing football, he suffers a concussion that probably isn’t his first. Then Isaiah must decide whether to continue playing the game that may either create or end his future. Herbach’s narrative powers are shown in several ways in Cracking the Bell. First, Herbach gets the football right. The opening chapter and several other scenes show Isaiah’s mind at work on the field as he makes split-second decisions and uses his body to physically deliver his strategies. Readers who know the game will enjoy the authentic action and Isaiah’s interior monologue. After the concussion, Isiah’s mind and imagination are damaged, and Herbach effectively conveys Isaiah’s dysfunctional mental processing. A third narrative device comes from Isaiah’s journals in which he writes about troubling episodes from his life in third person to objectify them for himself. Wrapped around all of this is a first-person point of view in past tense that is a welcome break from the first-person-present-tense point of view that is so ubiquitous in YA fiction these days. Teens generally feel indestructible, and they do not like being lectured about what is good for them. As Isaiah considers the life-or-death implications of continuing to play football after suffering concussions, Cracking the Bell honors those attitudes while leading young readers to consider how and when to move on and how to prioritize their commitments. This review appears in slightly different form on my What's Not Wrong? blog.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ms. Yingling

    ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central 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 ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central 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. 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.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sally Kruger

    After Isaiah's sister Hannah was killed by a drunk driver, Isaiah fell apart. He had worshipped his older sister, and her loss ruined his parents' marriage and sent him barreling in the wrong direction. His delinquent behavior ended in his father offering him a choice - join the football team or return to the juvenile detention facility that hadn't worked for him the first time. Isaiah chose football, and his life turned around. Now a senior and about to turn eighteen, Isaiah is a star player, After Isaiah's sister Hannah was killed by a drunk driver, Isaiah fell apart. He had worshipped his older sister, and her loss ruined his parents' marriage and sent him barreling in the wrong direction. His delinquent behavior ended in his father offering him a choice - join the football team or return to the juvenile detention facility that hadn't worked for him the first time. Isaiah chose football, and his life turned around. Now a senior and about to turn eighteen, Isaiah is a star player, star student, and seemingly a star son. In the game against Lancaster, Isaiah messed up. Headed for a tackle, he put his eyes down and slammed into his opponent. He was out cold. He came to and jumped to his feet before his teammates suspected the severity of his injury. Despite the fact that he heard what he described as "witch whistles" and a constant deadly shriek, he went through the motions at the end of the game and headed home. By the next morning it was clear Isaiah was hurt. A trip to the emergency room with his parents revealed the diagnosis as a severe concussion. It also became evident that this was not his first concussion. NO MORE FOOTBALL! At least that's what his mother declared. Since Isaiah believed that football had brought him back to life after losing his sister, the idea of not playing sent him over the edge. How could he survive without the game? Would the promise of a scholarship from Cornell University disappear? What was the point of hard work, good grades, and good behavior if what he lived for was gone? CRACKING THE BELL explores the dangers of sports injuries, specifically concussions. The threat of second impact syndrome is real, and players, parents, and coaches around the country should be concerned. Thankfully, fictional Isaiah had a strong support system of family and friends, and the strength of his determination to see him through a physical and emotional struggle. Anyone who plays football or cares about someone who plays football should read CRACKING THE BELL. Author Geoff Herbach's smooth flowing style makes reading ten pages feel like barely reading two. He makes Isaiah and his story leap off the page and demand to be read. Thank you to the author for generously sharing this ARC. Release date - Sept. 2019.

  6. 4 out of 5

    William

    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 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 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.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jackie

    Geoff Herbach is one of my new favorite writers for YA---I came to the party late perhaps. His newest release is about a boy, Isaiah, who is a senior in high school. His family experienced a terrible tragedy, the death of his sister Hannah, and they are broken. After her death Isaiah spiraled downward during middle school and ended up in a boy's home for a while; however, football changed everything. It added structure and team to his life, and he was even being courted by Cornell University Geoff Herbach is one of my new favorite writers for YA---I came to the party late perhaps. His newest release is about a boy, Isaiah, who is a senior in high school. His family experienced a terrible tragedy, the death of his sister Hannah, and they are broken. After her death Isaiah spiraled downward during middle school and ended up in a boy's home for a while; however, football changed everything. It added structure and team to his life, and he was even being courted by Cornell University because he was a good student as well. Then he suffers a major concussion and the spiral starts again. Everything comes to a head, and the ending is believable. I really liked the characters, especially his hippie friend Joe. I think kids will eat this up!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I received an ARC of this book, and I’m so glad I did. Generally, sports books are not my first choice, but having read Herbach’s Stupid Fast series, I knew the storyline would appeal to me anyway. As usual, his writing did not disappoint. The main character Isaiah has had a rough time following the loss of his sister and his parents’ subsequent divorce. He makes very bad choices and is on the verge of losing everything when he joins the team. Football is what saves him, but after a particularly I received an ARC of this book, and I’m so glad I did. Generally, sports books are not my first choice, but having read Herbach’s Stupid Fast series, I knew the storyline would appeal to me anyway. As usual, his writing did not disappoint. The main character Isaiah has had a rough time following the loss of his sister and his parents’ subsequent divorce. He makes very bad choices and is on the verge of losing everything when he joins the team. Football is what saves him, but after a particularly brutal hit, it could be what destroys him as well. This book illustrates the dangers inherent in any contact sport and how the right decision may be neither clear nor easy. I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    M. Velasco

    CRACKING THE BELL is hard-hitting and relentless. Football has given Isaiah a reason to stay out of trouble, an outlet for his intensity, and a focus to reach his potential. But football also breaks him. Isaiah is knocked out after making a big hit. The resulting concussion threatens more than his playing time. He may have to give up the game, because he could die from second-impact syndrome. Already emotionally scarred from the death of his sister and the divorce of his parents, Isaiah begins to CRACKING THE BELL is hard-hitting and relentless. Football has given Isaiah a reason to stay out of trouble, an outlet for his intensity, and a focus to reach his potential. But football also breaks him. Isaiah is knocked out after making a big hit. The resulting concussion threatens more than his playing time. He may have to give up the game, because he could die from second-impact syndrome. Already emotionally scarred from the death of his sister and the divorce of his parents, Isaiah begins to fear his life will return to ruin without football. The football action flows well, told in Isaiah's POV, but the book really hits its stride during the character moments. It kept me honed in on every word, page after page. CRACKING THE BELL is deeply personal and widely relevant, and it will remain so as long as concussions are a thing in impact sports.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Cathy Castelli

    I've been a fan ever since Stupid Fast, and Cracking the Bell is another legendary addition to YA Sports. I know that the mark of a good book for me, is when I get so caught up in the story that I forget it's not real. In the novel, Isaiah has a green notebook where he writes his story. In the ARC I read, these stories are in italics. I found myself thinking, "Wow, that Isaiah is a good writer!" No, that Geoff Herbach is a great writer, and he totally had me gripped. I'm thirilled for another YA I've been a fan ever since Stupid Fast, and Cracking the Bell is another legendary addition to YA Sports. I know that the mark of a good book for me, is when I get so caught up in the story that I forget it's not real. In the novel, Isaiah has a green notebook where he writes his story. In the ARC I read, these stories are in italics. I found myself thinking, "Wow, that Isaiah is a good writer!" No, that Geoff Herbach is a great writer, and he totally had me gripped. I'm thirilled for another YA sports book to be added to my school library shelves but especially one that deals with the truths of family loss, divorce, and the importance of communication.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Hoover Public Library Kids and Teens

    A troubled Wisconsin teenager finds solid ground and grievous injury alike on the gridiron.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    Book talker: NOT A FOOTBALL STORY :)

  13. 4 out of 5

    Susan Parodi

    Great YA book for lovers or haters of football

  14. 4 out of 5

    Staci Vought

    I was really excited for this - it sounded promising and early reviews were strong. It ended up being okay..but the writing style had some odd qualities to it and it was hard to relate to the characters. This was barely a sports book - much more emphasis on dealing with loss, toxic relationships, etc. With about 25 pages left, I felt like there was no hope for these characters and I had no idea how the book was going to come to any sort of conclusion. The book did conclude - but much too I was really excited for this - it sounded promising and early reviews were strong. It ended up being okay..but the writing style had some odd qualities to it and it was hard to relate to the characters. This was barely a sports book - much more emphasis on dealing with loss, toxic relationships, etc. With about 25 pages left, I felt like there was no hope for these characters and I had no idea how the book was going to come to any sort of conclusion. The book did conclude - but much too quickly. All in all, it was okay...sports fans will be disappointed, but fans of realistic fiction with guy main characters will feel at home.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Robin Bigda

  16. 4 out of 5

    Amy

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ray Merz

  18. 4 out of 5

    Christine Antosca

  19. 4 out of 5

    Robert Rieders

  20. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lira

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mahlet

  23. 4 out of 5

    Natalie Martell

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kiersten

  25. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia Shutts

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kiani

  27. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

  28. 4 out of 5

    Becca

  29. 4 out of 5

    Carol

  30. 4 out of 5

    Avery Lipscomb

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