Don’t Know Though by Eli Cranor

Review by Patrick R. McDonough

I’ve always known football to be a big deal in the South. Sure, football is a big deal in most places, but down there, it’s on a completely different level. Down there, it’s do or die.
If you’re a fan of audiobooks, Cranor performs the narration for the audio version. From the very first sentence, Cranor pulls you into the life of Billy Lowe with his superb performance–this comes with no exaggeration–one of the greatest narrations of a book I have ever experienced. Cranor knows this world. He knows the people from first-hand experience. He became Billy Lowe and he hooked me for every damn second.

Billy Lowe isn’t a bad kid. There are no bad kids, there are only bad adults that rob the innocence from a child, and that could not ring more true than Billy, his brothers, and the other kids in Don’t Know Tough. Not every kid knows what Billy goes through, but they all know tough in one form or another. It breaks my heart, knowing kids go through the shit Billy Lowe goes through. It takes guts to write the material Cranor wrote. Sure, this is his first published book, but mark my words, Eli Cranor is a fucking master-in-the-making.

Don’t Know Tough is a story about fatherhood, not a singular father-son relationship, but fatherhood as a whole. As a young father myself (to a beautiful almost-two-and-a-half year old son), this book marred my heart. It makes me want to cry to know that any child has to know what tough is.

Billy Lowe is someone that wants to be better, but is constantly reminded of an illusion. That false truth of being who others say he should be. Nothing more than someone that will never make a name for themselves, go to college (his hope and admiration), and live a happy and healthy life. Booze, drugs, sex, these aren’t things Billy Lowe view as sources of true happiness. These are just things around him.

Family, loyalty, protection, love, books—these are bliss. These are hope. When Cranor introduces Heminway’s The Old Man and the Sea as a literal learning tool and exploration device to understand his character by means of incredible dialogue, it was the umpteeth time Cranor made me want to cry.

Billy is only one character (sure, he’s the main character and the driving force behind everything involved) that you’ll meet when reading Don’t Know Tough, but I want you to explore this story for yourself, and the way to do that is to take that dive. Learn what Tough is all about.

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