Cover Image: Love, Zac

Love, Zac

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Member Reviews

A heartfelt and tragic read that shares an important message to America's sports fans and players. Call to comtemplate sports roles in society and how it's implemented in our identity and sense of self.
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The subject of this book, sports-generated brain trauma, is certainly timely and I was expecting a story that would capture my interest on several levels and provide much needed information.  The story quickly introduces us to Zac and his all-American family We are shown how football in small town America is often the cornerstone of social life, Zac would seem to be the perfect candidate for this football culture. He is highly competitive, willing to take risks and very eager to please his father. He is a not much of a student in the classroom but eager to do his best on the football field.  Unfortunately Zac has some deep flaws, at least as far as this reader was concerned. He is totally lacking in empathy for the victims of his hard hits but his character was warped long before he donned a helmet. When I read that, as a young boy he shoved fire crackers down the throat of a snake so he could watch him blow up, I lost all sympathy for Zac. There is a vital need for the message this book has to share. I just wish the author had found a messenger more deserving of our compassion.
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Heartbreaking. The human toll of football is tragic enough when it's professionals have early cognitive decline, but when it's a bright, personable kid whose thinks his "brain is turning to mush" and takes his life?  Heart. Breaking.

This was a wonderful portrait of Zac's life, his family's life, his community, and how football has touched and affected all of it.  The book strays when it moves away from this personal story (the chapters on CTE, the NFL, and the history of brain injuries have been done better elsewhere) but when it focuses on Zac and his slow, terrifying decline it is riveting.

The other really interesting thing about this book is that that is touches on individual and community and it asks a question that is larger than football.  How does a community react (and can it change) when something that is so central to a community's identity turns out to have negative effects on that very community.  As I get a notification on my phone of the arrival of another two-day shipped package and type this to be stored on a server in a carbon-spewing data center, it's a question that haunts me.  What am I willing to do to change my life when my lifestyle and the things I hold dear turn out to be worse for all of us?
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Excellent nonfiction piece on the traumas of CTE and playing football. Well documented, researched, and woven together to tell the story of a young man's life and experience with brain trauma.
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"The truth is inconvenient. The truth could be painful. This is a game people love. But as a society, we evolve."

Football has become almost as American as the Statue of Liberty or the Fourth of July. I mean, think about it for a moment. My time in the high school band revolved around supporting our football team every Friday night. Thanksgiving wouldn't be complete without "the big game" playing on the TV. Even colleges, places that are supposed to be dedicated to higher learning, feature massive football stadiums looming over the rest of campus. American's love the game, but as author Reid Forgrave explores in his new book Love, Zac, our love affair with the sport may be doing more harm than good.

Zac Easter was the quintessential all-American high school athlete. What he lacked in size he made up for in toughness. Football and grit seemed to run in his family. Zac's dad was the assistant coach at his rural midwestern high school. His older brother was a high school football star player. Playing the sport was not only a rite of passage for the Easter men, but it was also an expectation. If you don't play football, how will you become a proper man?

Every game, Zac put forth all of his efforts, willing his body to push the limits of what it was capable of. Each play saw the young man violently collide with other players. It even earned him the coveted "big hammer" title from his coach. There were plenty of plays that left Zac raddled, dizzy, or even knocked out, but he always got up and returned to the field. Somewhere along the way, playing through the pain became the rule, not the exception. Finally, a catastrophic impact during his senior year took Zac out of the game for good. His football career was over, but the lifelong impact of his time playing the game was only beginning.

"Spread the word of mental illness and concussions, and over time, please spread my story. Great things can still happen from this event."

I don't often include trigger warnings in reviews, but I feel it is appropriate to do so with this book. Love, Zac is a gut-wrenching look at one person's struggle with injury, mental illness, and eventually suicide. This isn't normally the kind of book I would pick up to read, but Forgrave treats the subject with respect and transparency. After reading it, I'm happy that the publisher saw fit to send me a copy to review. The book doesn't just bash the sport. Forgrave even admits to being a fan of Football himself. Instead, it paints an intimate portrait of one young man's struggle with the aftereffects of traumatic hits to the head. As his headaches became a permanent symptom of years of physical trauma, Zac began to keep a journal. In reading the passages from it, we see his mental and physical anguish play out in real-time. Forgrave also interviews coaches, athletic trainers, doctors, and family members, filling in the gaps of Zac's writing and providing a complete picture of this one case. Football is ingrained into our culture, a part of our national identity. Love, Zac is never an argument against the game. Rather it is a sobering reminder of the price of this obsession.
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This is a well written story about a young man with a gift for sports who is pleasant but no one exceptional--except that he is a teen beloved by family and friends, the highly athletic boy next door liked by many. And he dies of traumatic brain injury because of his and his society's obsession with football. A memoir and a cautionary tale.
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There is much about CTE that remains puzzling – it is clearly linked to football but how strong is that link? Why do some people get it and not others, why does it affect some earlier than others, is it caused solely by concussions or linked to other factors, and so on. Underneath all that, however, is the story of a young man’s death and how that tragedy affected those who knew him.

Forgrave handles the multiple layers deftly. He doesn’t force a particular view of CTE on us, but he is clear about the implications the disease has for football, particularly youth football. He allows Zac’s family and friends to talk with remarkable honesty about Zac’s decline and how his death affected them. Throughout it all, Zac’s own voice is weaved into the narrative from his diaries and messages to his girlfriend, Ali, who offers remarkable and unwavering support as her boyfriend unravels.

Books that begin life as magazine articles, as this one did, can sometimes lack sufficient material to work at book length. That is not a problem here. Forgrave adds depth and colour to his material, creating a moving and engaging read. It shows the human cost of a frightening disease.
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3.5. This was very compelling for any athlete. Not only did it tell Zac’s story, the history of concussions, some football history, and reasons why the game it beloved/needs to change were woven throughout. Content-wise, there were some concerns for high school readers: suicide, self medicating through drugs/alcohol, language, and some sexual content.
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Read if you: Want a thoughtful and unforgettable story about a young man's tragic battle with CTE and the troubling impact of football on many of its players. 

Although I felt some sections could have been shorter (many pages about his family's history; I understand the reason for it--to establish that Zac came from a stoic Midwestern male sensibility--but definitely slowed down the narrative), this is one of the most compelling books recently written about CTE and the impact of concussions on football players. The fact that Zac's football career never progressed beyond high school makes it that more anguishing, as CTE cannot be excused as something that will only affect NFL superstars. 

Librarians/booksellers: This is a deeply intimate look at Zac's despair and decline. An important read for football fans, especially. (Note: The author is a fan, as am I.)

Many thanks to Algonquin Books and NetGalley for a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Zac Easter’s story of the love of football, the aggressive helmet-up way he played, and the devastation caused by football and his aggressive style of play. Reid Forgrave introduces us to the history of football, the Easter family, and Zac and his girlfriend.  Based on Zacks journals, we learn how Zac’s life was consumed by the gradual descent into trouble and the support and love of his family and girlfriend. I would like to think this story won’t be repeated by today’s young football players.
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I was originally interested in this book because I had heard Zac Easter's story before and had actually read the Facebook post that was online after his death. I've been following the NFL and the research surrounding Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy  or CTE.. I felt this book was able to strongly convey how strongly Americans feel about the importance of football, especially through families with a long line of players, and also the undeniable scientific evidence that sports, such as football, hockey and soccer, can cause long term damage to a person's brain. I continue to be moved by Zac's story and the stories of others who have suffered from CTE.. This is a great read for ANYONE, not just football advocates.
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Anyone who follows American football knows that the risk of concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a topic of much discussion and debate.  This story of a former high school football star who suffered from those conditions to point of committing suicide is a powerful book by Reid Forgrave.

Zac Easter came from a football-loving family. Every male in the family played, coached and watched football. The culture of the sport and the masculinity that was supposedly enhanced by the sport was an important part of the Easter household. Zac was certainly a member of this culture as he was a star player through high school, earning several awards.  The only break he made from the family when it came to football was that he was a Green Bay Packers fan while the rest of the family cheered for their rivals, the Minnesota Vikings.

However, Zac's time wasn't all glory and fun.  Forgrave gradually shows the reader some of the issues Zac was facing when all of the hits he took, especially to the head as he would often lead with his head against coaching instructions.  He would fight with the team's female trainer when she wanted him to give him his helmet, a sign that he will not return to the game. His moods became darker.  The book continues after his playing days to paint a great picture of the issued Zac faced with alcoholism, hypersexuality, headaches, mood swings and inability to hold jobs or focus on college courses.  It led to his suicide which wasn't a surprise ending, but one that the reader will still feel stunned when it happens.

That is what makes the book so powerful. Yes, the author did his research in the topics of football, helmet design, CTE and its effects and even in-depth interviews with the Easters.  But what makes the book truly a worthwhile endeavor is simply the emotions of everyone involved – from Zac to his family to his girlfriend (who stayed with him to the end) to his shocked teammates.  While some people, including this reviewer, do believe that he brought some of his issues on himself by refusing to adhere to the instructions to not lead with the head, it still boils down to the loss of a young life due to a danger in a sport that is by far the most popular in the United States.  

I wish to thank Algoquin Books for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Love, Zac was a difficult read because of the subject matter but I think it is a incredibly important book to bring awareness to several subjects, but mostly cte and mental health. This story was abkut Zachary Easter and his personal battle with cte after years of concussions from football, but it was also a great spurce of knowledge about what cte is and the book is also about the fight to get better concussion protocols put in place for football of all types from pee wee to the NFL. Zac's story is heartbreaking but hopefully it can help save other lives.
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