Always a Catch
by Peter Richmond
Philomel Books, 2014. 280 pages. Young adult fiction.
When Jack's father decides to send him to Oakhurst, a prestigious boarding school, for his senior year, Jack is just going along for the ride. But he decides that maybe Oakhurst is his chance to try new things. Which is why, instead of going out for the soccer team or the track team, places where he's already excelled, he decides to try out for football - a sport he's never played. His pianist hands stand him in good stead and get him a third-string spot on the varsity team. But at varsity the stakes are high and the pressure to take steroids - especially as the smallest on the team - are huge.
Overall, I thought there were some things about this book that were very successful. First, it takes a hard look at the doping culture that surrounds athletes and shows that players can make decisions that are based on reason and fact, rather than peer pressure. Jack also thinks seriously about the drug culture that is a part of most schools - especially boarding schools - and makes a decision that, no matter what happens elsewhere, drugs and alcohol should not drive the things that are the most important to him, like his music. And the book stays pretty firmly in the middle of the adult-teenager power balance - the adults are not always making good decisions, but the teens don't always know better than the adults, either. My biggest struggle was getting invested in the culture itself, but that might have as much to with the fact that I have never been a teenage boy as with the writing. The book did include a lot of strong language. Overall, this was an interesting book that said a lot about the power teens have to make good choices on their own if they are taught how to think about what they are doing, rather than just react to arbitrary rules.