Teenage boys are the hardest audience to convince that reading fiction books is worthwhile. While girls will be happy with almost any topic, boys are much harder to please. Hit Count by Chris Lynch is the perfect novel to scratch that itch. It should be on the shelf of every high school library.
This book evolves around a family with two teenage boys, a mother, and father. Both sons are obsessed with football. The older son Lloyd Brodie, although tough, never advances beyond the Jayvee level and quits his Senior Year. It’s all downhill from there, as he drops out of school and spends his time smoking pot and bumming around the house. The reader isn’t sure if his denseness is drug induced or due to brain injury, but the author portrays him as a pathetic loser jealous of his successful little brother. In contrast, Arlo, 6′ 2″ and 240 pounds, is driven to succeed where his brother failed. He redoubles his efforts, training twice a day throughout the year with his best friend Dino so he can make the Varsity team in his Sophomore year. Once on the team, Arlo discovers he loves the violent contact necessary for the linebacker to do his job. Coach Fisk admires his determination, but sometimes has to bench his star player to keep him from harming himself. Arlo resents these time outs wanting to get back on the field and do some damage to the opposing team. He even gets aggressive during scrimmages with his team mates. Before long Arlo gets the nickname Starlo due to his stellar moves which leads to the team’s winning record.
The meaning of the term Hit Count evolves throughout the book. At first it refers to Arlo’s list of future accomplishments he would like to achieve. Many of the items are easily crossed off prior to his Senior Year in High School. Then the Hit Count is the number of people Arlo successfully targets to smash, until finally he considers himself to be a walking Hit Count. In the end, Coach Fisk reveals the correct definition. A hit count is used to limit the frequency of repetitive head trauma and concussions to improve the safety of youth athletes in competitive sports. Arlo’s mother keeps “The File” full of articles and photographs which both sons are forced to read to remind them of the dangers of concussions and sub concussive injuries prevalent in contact sports. While Arlo’s dad is proud of his son’s power and success on the field, Arlo’s mom refuses to attend the games and watch her son be clocked as he pulverizes the other teams roster. She cringes when reading the nickname Starlo in the local newspaper, intuitively knowing that such a designation is only earned after brutal actions. Eventually Arlo’s girlfriend Sandrine (Sandy) comes to agree and refuses to have “contact” with her boyfriend until the season is over.
What will appeal most to boys, besides the violence found in contact sports, is the graphic details of the game. Lynch rakes us through Arlo’s thoughts as he trains and plays his favorite sport of football. For me, it was a little excessive and upsetting (I’m a mom who is grateful my son got his varsity letter in golf and that her daughters got their letters in bowling and swim) even though I could understand his obsession to be the best and his need for the extreme workouts necessary to build his body into tip top shape. While the gratuitious violence was necessary to advance the plot, it still made me want to yell “stop” or “enough”. So in a way, this book was painful to read, especially after each head trauma episode. While Chris Lynch presents Arlo’s thoughts and feelings in excruciating detail (completely necessary to get the point across to the reader), I was surprised the ending was so brief. I wanted a little bit more about this kid I had spent over 300 pages getting to know. It should at least have had an epilogue. Four stars.
Thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.