ARC Review Book Review

ARC Review | Love, Zac: Small-Town Football and the Life and Death of an American Boy by Reid Forgrave

Title: Love, Zac: Small-Town Football and the Life and Death of an American Boy
Author: Reid Forgrave 
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Published On: September 8, 2020
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Source: physical
Pages: 288

CW: Suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, animal death


“A monumental achievement of deep reporting and expert storytelling.” —Michael Sokolove, author of The Last Temptation of Rick Pitino

“I just can’t live with this pain anymore,” were among the final words in the diary of Zac Easter, a young man from small-town Iowa. In December 2015, Zac decided to take his own life rather than continue his losing battle against the traumatic brain injuries he had sustained as a no-holds-barred high school football player. In this deeply reported and powerfully moving true story, award-winning sportswriter Reid Forgrave speaks to Zac’s family, friends, and coaches; he explores Zac’s tightly knit, football-obsessed Midwestern community; he interviews cutting-edge brain scientists, psychologists, and sports historians; and he takes a deep dive into the triumphs and sins of the sports entertainment industry.

Forgrave shows us how football mirrors America, from the fighting spirit it has helped inscribe in our national character to the problematic side effects of traditional notions of manhood that it affirms. But, above all, this is a story of how one young man’s obsession with football led him and many of those entrusted with his care to ignore the warning signs of CTE until it was too late. What do Zac’s life and death mean for a society addicted to a sport that can be thrilling and character forming but also dangerous and sometimes tragic for those who play it?

Eye-opening, important, and ultimately inspiring, Love, Zac challenges us to think carefully about the ideals and values we as a nation want to instill in future generations.

My thoughts

(All quotes are taken from an advance reader’s copy and are subject to change in the final print.)

Despite sitting in the stands for four consecutive years in high school as a member of my school’s marching band—this doesn’t even include the years I attended games before and after high school—I still don’t understand all the logistics of football. My very math-averse brain just doesn’t understand (or care) about all the minute rules. But I did grow up in a small-town where Friday Night Lights was king. And that’s what drew me to Love, Zac.

This memoir is a heartbreaking look at how multiple concussions sustained playing high school football led Zac Easter to endure traumatic brain injuries and ultimately commit suicide at the age of twenty-four years old. Along with telling Zac’s story, the author takes the reader back to the beginnings of football, the history of awareness of concussions and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), and how—like so many controversies in America today—the concussion crisis has became more about politics and money than health and science.

“The efforts to distance football from CTE began to resemble the tobacco industry distancing smoking from cancer.”

Reid Forgrave; Love, Zac

And if all that isn’t enough, the author also touches on how we’re raising our boys. The ‘play through the pain’ mentality boys are instilled with. Zac was the middle son of a football-obsessed family. He felt like to make his father proud, he had to play football and play it well. So he hid his pain, not wanting to appear weak or less manly. It’s just another consequence to add to the long list of ways toxic masculinity has damaged our culture.

This book was inspired from Zac’s own words, the journals, texts, and instructions he left to his friends and family. He wanted his story told, hoping no one else would ever have to suffer the way he did. I hope this eye-opening memoir gets the attention it deserves. I know, personally, I will never watch football in the same way again.

Thank you to the publisher, Algonquin Books, for providing me with an advance copy.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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About the Author

Reid Forgrave
Reid Forgrave

Reid Forgrave writes about sports and other topics for GQ, the New York Times Magazine, and Mother Jones, among other publications. He has covered the NFL and college football for and CBS Sports, and he currently writes for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. The article in which he first wrote about Zac Easter is included in  Best American Sports Writing 2018 . A past life found him working at the Des Moines Register in Iowa, where he wrote long-form narrative journalism and covered the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses. Forgrave lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two sons. Love, Zac is his first book.   

Have you read Love, Zac? Did you add it to your tbr? Let me know in the comments!

Happy Wandering!

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