Sunday, April 19, 2015

Hit Count by Chris Lynch

Hit Count by Chris Lynch. 368 p. Algonquin Young Readers, May 19, 2015. 9781616202507. (arc received at the ALAN workshop)

Hit Count is the first-person narrative of Arlo Brodie told over his four years in high school. We first meet Arlo as an articulate, hopeful freshman living in the shadow of his rather brutal older brother, who is a football star and sadistically enjoys putting Arlo in his place. Arlo recognizes that his brother probably received one too many hits over the course of his illustrious playing career but refuses to put the brakes on his own football hopes and dreams. He knows his father is proud of him and his mother is disappointed. She collects data about traumatic brain injury, which she adds to "The Book" and she wishes her boys would quit football. He can't please both. Besides, he loves football and recognizes his own potential.

He soon realizes that potential thanks to the hard work and extra effort he's willing to devote. Once he experiences the adrenaline rush of the "perfect hit," his appetite is insatiable. His star rises meteorically, in fact. By sophomore year, he's a varsity starter known as "Starlo." 

I could not put this book down. I have a bit of a love/ hate relationship with football. I grew up with a father who was a rabid NY Giants fan. Since my family owned only one black and white television, Sundays were spent with my dad alternately explaining the intricacies and beauty of football to me and screaming obscenities at the tv when a play went wrong. Later, it killed me in high school to see the football jocks rule the school. Still later, as an ER nurse, I was well acquainted with treatment of high school athletes. When the push for peewee football descended on my town while my own sons were growing up, I was happy they were soccer players (although I later read about the incidence of traumatic brain injury in soccer players is also high, like second or third with ice hockey. And soccer players wear no helmets).

While there's plenty of football action to please those who crave that in their novel reading, there's much more to offer a variety of readers. Arlo's is an engaging, charming voice - the likable jock, the scholar-athlete. He's crushing on new girl Sandy and is so endearingly awkward, it hurts. Even his complicated family dynamics are interesting. We definitely root for Arlo and almost don't notice that he's becoming a bit less articulate and less in control of his anger until it's too late. The bone-crunching football Arlo plays is thrilling. We get it. 

A couple of years ago, Carla Killough McClafferty wrote a powerful book called, Fourth Down and Inches: concussions and football's make or break moment. You can read my thoughts here, but I wrote that, "This book should be mandatory reading for every coach, parent and, yes, even player in the country." I think this book is so important it is usually front and center on my book display. 

The two would make a perfect fiction/ non-fiction pairing. In fact, I might take to our morning broadcast show with a book talk on both books next week to follow up on a presentation that the eighth graders at my school attended the morning of this writing (April17).

A former student who is now a senior, studied athletic injuries, specifically, ACL tears and concussion, for her Gold Star (Girl Scout) project. She put together an informative presentation and spoke very comfortably to the eighth graders. I learned that our regional high school has a policy that prohibits play (for the rest of high school) by a student when he or she suffers the fourth concussion. Whether this policy would lead to student athletes underreporting is a topic for another time but I was impressed that such a policy was in place. Timely coincidence, eh?

Hit Count is a must-purchase for school and public libraries. The only other YA novel I can think of that deals with this issue is Pop by Gordon Korman. In Pop, a young football player befriends Pop, a football legend who is suffering from the effects of multiple concussions. Hit Count definitely hits closer to home. Don't miss it.

ETA: I don't know if there are any plans to produce an audiobook. I think it lends itself to the format quite nicely. Both Nick Podehl and MacLeod Andrews spring to mind as perfect for the part. Both are terrific, especially conveying male adolescents. Both inhabit whatever book they narrate. Indeed, they don't narrate. They perform.

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