Hit Count is a bit like a great football game with an amazing first half that peters out after half-time only to regain some momentum in the fourth quarter.
I liked Arlo in the beginning. Young, determined, driven and smart and somewhat sympathetic to the plight of his football-loving bigger bro Lloyd, who played with such intensity that one-too-many concussions renders him off the team and stumbling through life without any direction and without a fully functioning brain. Addiction and anger root and fester in a life that is now empty without football.
One would think, having such a tragic example living under the same roof, that Arlo would learn from not only his brother but also from his mother and The File. The File is a group of articles collected by the boys’ mom that researches the effects of concussions and subconcussions on the still developing brains of high school football players. It details articles on NFL players who have long-term brain damage from their chosen careers. But it almost seems to have the opposite effect on Arlo. Instead of seeing all of this as a cautionary tale, he seems determined to prove that he is better and tougher than anyone. He takes hits and doles them out. He takes pride in how hard he can hit a player and how many hits he can withstand in a single game, how many hits he can punish the opposing team with in each quarter. He trains harder than anyone and earns the nickname Starlo.
And that’s where the story fumbled a bit for me. Arlo becomes a self-centered jerk with few to no redeeming qualities. I got a little tired of reading about his obsession with The Hit, of his constant self-image of greatness. I became frustrated with the length of time he ignored all the symptoms of his concussion damaged brain. How many signs does one person need before he sees the light? Frankly, by the end, it was amazing he could see anything at all.
So, yes, I thought his denial went on for a bit longer than necessary, but I also think the book is important. The NFL has finally acknowledged that the game and its almost unavoidable concussions do cause permanent damage. Studies are now being done (as Arlo’s mother tries to prove with The File) about how dangerous physical impacts are on still-developing brains. It’s very much a hot issue right now and a touchy subject for a country that loves its pigskin. Lynch’s work can serve as an eye-opener for youth who participate in high impact sports. The reader gets a front row seat to the slow but steady destruction of a once promising athlete and formerly smart student. I would encourage young footballers and their parents to give this book a read.