TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
For older teens (due to the themes and language here), "Raiders Night" is a great book about the underside of high school athletics. Matt Rydek is the senior co-captain of the Nearmont High Raiders football team. He's also a member of the "Back Pack," a group of football players who lift weights and shoot steroids at a local gym. The story begins at the very end of the summer, just as the Raiders are about to leave for a five-day mini camp.
Matt is, quite frankly, a mess. He's the team's star player — in fact, one of the best in the area — but his entire life has become about football. Matt's dad is a former player and current caterer who pays for his son's steroids, pesters him constantly, harasses officials, obsessively compiles lists of scouts and colleges, and generally puts a world of pressure on the teen. Matt is cheating on one girlfriend and ignoring another. He pops the painkiller Vicodin like it's candy, hides a flask in his duffle bag, and occasionally walks (and drives) in a complete stupor. While he's clearly falling apart carrying the weight of his teammates', community's, and father's expectations, Matt is actually a pretty good kid. He's just often too overwhelmed to challenge those around him.
During "Raiders Pride Night" at the preseason mini camp, Matt's co-captain, the loud, abusive, and completely underhanded Ramp, takes a freshman hazing prank way too far. Chris, the transfer student who is the victim of the prank, goes from being a flashy, confident player to a shell of himself; he misses practices, stays home from school, and avoids his teammates. Matt soon realizes that the team's coaches, boosters, and even some of the parents know about the hazing, but all choose to ignore it so the team can continue to thrive. Matt is faced with a choice: betray his teammates and reveal the truth, or keep quiet and watch a young man self-destruct.
As I said in the opening, this is a gripping book about the negative effects of all the hoopla surrounding high school sports. There is tons of sports action here, both in the Raider practices and games, that football fans will surely love. Matt is also a very real teenager, a believable combination of "big man on campus" and decent guy. Author Lipsyte weaves many issues throughout the story (drug and alcohol abuse, casual sex, parental demands, sexual abuse, etc.), but none of them overwhelm the story. This is ultimately a compelling story about one teenage athlete's attempt to do the right thing. "Raiders Night" is strongly recommended for high school age readers.