Sayreville vs. PRESS PLAY: when truth is stranger than fiction


I wasn’t surprised by the hazing allegations in Sayreville, NJ. I was disgusted, especially as details about the hazing came out, but not surprised.  I have been involved with athletics as an athlete and as a coach, and I know, firsthand, the danger of the locker room mentality. As an educator, I have heard more stories about abusive events than I ever wanted to. This isn’t to say I have ever been around circumstances of the severity of Sayerville. But I’m not sure that severity is the key issue. The complicit nature of those in the know, is.

Trust me, in no way shape or form am I blaming victims. Those boys have been traumatized. Nor am I so foolish as to expect the perpetrators to turn themselves in. They should, but that is not how they operate. My concern is with the rest of the team, the school, and the community. I do not live in Sayreville, and I won’t speak ill of a town reeling from such a scandal, but I think the question that needs to be asked–and hopefully is being asked by investigators–is who knew, what, and when?

The thing about teens is that they talk. They tell stories. Often they can’t keep secrets. Based on the media reports out of Sayreville, the hazing that occurred is as much tradition as is the support of the team. And so it is only fair to deduce that someone knew. Or a lot of people, really. Not just the team. Not just their immediate friends. But certainly the coaches, and maybe some of the staff; possibly administration. I’m willing to bet former players knew. Yet, no one spoke out, so far as we know. That fact speaks to the power of abuse and the grip it holds. Everyone feared speaking because of the potential victimization he or she would receive. With good reason.

In Press Play, the lacrosse team is involved in brutal and systematic hazing. No one talks because they know better. No one talks because the powers that be are complicit, possibly more than. No one talks because the town’s economy depends on the team. No one talks because there is no one to talk to.

Some people have had a problem with that concept, of students not trusting adults, or adults being cast in such a negative light. I respect that. And more often than not, teens should be able to trust adults. Except for when they can’t.

That’s why I was thrilled to see a recent review by a librarian who went back and reread Press Play after the allegations is Sayreville came forth. In her words, “I had to reread Press Play this week after hearing about the hazing in Sayreville, NJ, on the news. When I first read the book, it seemed like an over-the-top version of team hazing and bullying, designed to get people talking. After watching the Sayreville superintendent’s press conference on his decision to completely cancel their football team’s entire season, I realized that there is much more reality to this than I ever wanted to believe.”

No one wants to imagine that anyone is capable of being involved on any level with something so atrocious. But people are. And it is as bad, if not worse, in reality, than any fiction I can write.

The reviewer goes on to make a powerful statement in support of Press Play: This is well-written, gripping, and I recommend this for 8th grade and up.
I really want my…graduates in high school to read this. But I also want my 8th graders to read this. There is a lot of swearing, and the bullying scenes should literally make your blood run cold. The reason I want my 8th graders to read this is that I want them to think carefully about what kind of person they want to be when they get to the high school. What do you want yourself to do when the lights go out and you hear the wolf howl signal? Will you step up and say something, and will you keep saying something until someone listens? Will you hide in the back and say nothing while you watch? Or will you be laughing and egging someone on? What kind of character does it take to do the right thing in the face of certain ostracism, and possible violence?”

These are the questions posed to Greg, the protagonist in Press Play. He, who has been bullied and victimized for as long as he can remember, has to decide to step up or stay silent. His journey into the darkness is disturbing, but so worth the read if you care to understand the impotent rage that these athletes feel, these students feel, that you will feel.

Press Play will be published two weeks from today. Read, and continue the conversation, because events like the one at Sayreville are far from behind us.

This Above All…


In my novels the recurrent theme is always being true to yourself. For my characters, doing such may be the main focus, or something they must work to identify and then fight for. Regardless, the fact remains, I believe in the narrative of knowing who you are and forging ahead, regardless of the obstacles.

The same applies to my own life, personally and professionally. There is an enormous amount of pressure for me to be someone else, to write other ways, to conform. And I’m not going to lie, much like my characters, I feel doubt sometimes. I feel the urge to cave, to play it safe, to not push limits. Because my work pisses off a lot of people. My characters say and do things some don’t want to hear or see. And they call me out on it. And it hurts.

The easy route would be for me to tuck my proverbial tail and play it safe and write characters that make you say “Aww” when you close the book, but that’s not the truth I understand. And that’s not the art I want to create.

This contradiction of realism and escapism came up in one of my classes recently (my students are sharp). It was intriguing to hear students talk about the importance of both sides of the coin, in books and movies, because like us, there are times when they want to dive deeper and try to learn and understand, and then there are times they want to forget it all and believe that there’s a bit more shine to the world.

Invariably, though, they have to come back to the present reality. And as teens, that means an ungodly amount of pressure. I see it every day, and I remember my own, and I write stories that address what I see and what we, collectively, have felt and still feel.

Yet, haters gonna hate. And with all my work, and now, specifically, Press Play, people don’t like the cursing, the violence, the darkness. To them I can only say, “Then help create a world where this doesn’t exist and I’ll write about nothing but sunshine.” Until then I can only suggest: go visit a high school, go speak with teens (not at), sit down and think back to not just your lived high school experience, but that of the kids who you knew, or barely knew. Yup, the shadows will start to creep in.

This isn’t to say embrace the dark and the lack of hope. That’s crazy. Even in my bleakest of stories there is hope. It may not strut on stage and sing a song, but it’s there, often elusive, just like in life.

And just like in life, we are fundamentally responsible for ourselves. We cannot control what others think, only how we do and how we react. I have to remind myself of this all the time. Because, to quote Sartre, at times, “Hell is other people.”

Of course this is not universally applicable. There will always be people, real or fictional, who will strive to make it better, even if that’s by dredging up the muck and digging in the dark. In fact, you’ll find them in my work. But be warned, they’re as real as you and me.

The Vibe for Press Play

Press Play cover teaser


Maybe it’s the start of the school year, and the change that it brings, but there’s something different about the vibe for Press Play that I haven’t felt before.

I’ve already had students and colleagues ask, “When’s your next book coming out?” And they’re not asking in a blasé manner. There’s hunger in their eyes. They want to read what I have next in store. Therefore, it’s very awesome and very fortunate that I get to say, “The end of October.” I think they might hurt me if they had to wait longer.

Additionally, there’s been some great support and interest over Teen Reader Con. Quite frankly, I’m as excited to meet these authors as everyone else. There has never been such an event in our area devoted to Young Adult literature, and I look forward to how successful it will be, and hopefully for an invite to return next year 🙂

There’s also the fact that my trailer is due at the end of the week. It will be blasted on 9/24, and I have little doubt that it will be gripping and heart-stopping and tantalizing. The fact that I used the high school where I work as setting, along with my students as extras, and a longtime friend as the main character, just adds to the excitement. My hand even makes a cameo. And of course, the fact that it will run at the Regal theaters in Colonie from 10/24 through 10/30, only ratchets up the thrill.

Oh yeah, and then there’s all the local events scheduled (included below), along with my attendance at the ALAN workshop, which I consider quite an honor. Getting out and seeing fans and signing books is the best part of the job. And the fact that I get to do so here, as well as on a larger, industry stage is phenomenal.

And, honestly, fans like you, the people who read my novels, my posts and tweets and Facebook updates, you’ve created this. So many people still have the notion of author in office, typing away, and that’s the long and short of the job. Today, that’s only a fraction. The awesome stories are a given. All the behind-the-scenes work to get recognized is completed in concert with my publisher. And we work hard. And it’s paying off.

 So thank you for recognizing that, and for staying with me. I know Press Play is going to take you for one hell of a ride. But I also know you’ve enjoyed the rest of the ride, thus far. Awesome. Keep cheering and spreading the word, because up around the bend is going to blow your mind.


Local Events (as currently scheduled)

Event               Release party & Signing

Location          McGreivey’s Restaurant, 91 Broad St, Waterford, NY 12188

Date & Time   10/24, 4-7 pm


Event               Signing

Location          Barnes & Noble, 131 Colonie Center #355, Albany, NY 12205

Date & Time   10/25, 2-5 pm


Event               Teen Reader Con (Full-day convention devoted to Young Adult Lit)

Location          Shenendehowa Middle Schools, 970 Route 146, Clifton Park, NY 12065

Date & Time   11/8, 8:30 am – 4 pm


Event               Fundraising Book Fair (for BHBL) & Signing

Location          Barnes & Noble, 131 Colonie Center #355, Albany, NY 12205

Date & Time   11/14, 4-7 pm


Event               Signing

Location          Market Block Books, 290 River St, Troy, NY 12180

Date & Time   11/15, 11-1 pm


Event               ALAN Workshop

Location          National Harbor, MD

Date & Time   11/24-25


Event               Signing

Location          The Open Door Bookstore, 128 Jay St., Schenectady, N.Y. 12305

Date & Time   12/6, 1-2:30 pm


Booklist Likes PRESS PLAY

Both of these articles are from an author and reviewer I admire, Daniel Kraus. He has reviewed Tap Out and Dare Me, and now Press Play. Additionally, as you’ll see below, he has included Press Play in a round up of titles regarding hazing. Both the review and the inclusion in the round up have me thrilled. I hope you enjoy 🙂

Press Play, by Eric Devine | Booklist Online.

Press Play.


Devine, Eric (author).

Oct. 2014. 368p. Running Press, paperback, $9.95 (9780762455126). Grades 9-12. 
REVIEW.  First published September 1, 2014 (Booklist).

Greg Dunsmore is 16, but here’s the more relevant number: 352. That’s his weight, which over the years has earned him the nickname Dun the Ton, but not a whole lot of friends. Fortunately, the one pal he has, Quinn, is a fitness fanatic and has begun to train Greg every day after school. It’s during a workout that they stumble upon the horrible hazing rituals of the championship lacrosse team, everything from stick beatings to being force-fed feces. Greg is a budding filmmaker, and with his new buddies Oliver (who is even bigger than Greg) and Ella (a hard-as-nails fellow video auteur), he takes to secretly filming the crimes. This is definitely a Devine novel; there’s so much sweat, blood, and adrenaline that you almost need to wring out the pages. Readers will need to forgive a late hard-to-swallow plot point, but once they do, it’s thrilling to watch Greg enter the lion’s den himself—the lacrosse team’s Hell Week—for the bruising finale. A tough, smart look at weight issues, self-respect, and our intrinsic desire to belong at all costs.— Daniel Kraus 


Read-alikes: Hazing—the Game Nobody Wins, by Daniel Kraus | Booklist Online.


Read-alikes: Hazing—the Game Nobody Wins.

Kraus, Daniel (author).

FEATURE.  First published September 1, 2014 (Booklist).

Eric Devine’s Press Play is the newest from an author whose characters often fight from the fringe. Though Devine’s books frequently center upon sports, this is the first to focus squarely on hazing, which makes it the latest addition to a strong list of YA novels on the topic. These books are gutsy, gritty, bloody, and often shocking—but so is the crime of hazing.

FreefallFreefallBy Ariela Anhalt. 2010. Harcourt, $17 (9780152065676). Gr. 10–12.

Sure, it’s an uppity boarding school (the jocks here are fencers), but that doesn’t mean that all is cozy. Luke’s best buddy, Hayden, has always been the reckless top dog, but then a new hotshot arrives and steals his thunder. Soon after, the new kid is pushed from a cliff to his death by Hayden—either a hazing ritual gone wrong or a flat-out murder. With credibly written turmoil, Luke, the sole witness, is left to sort through his feelings and admit to himself the truth of what he saw.



If You’re Reading ThisBy Trent Reedy. 2014. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $17.99 (9780545433426). Gr. 7–10.

Seven years after his dad died in Afghanistan, Mike begins receiving letters from him, delivered by an anonymous member of Dad’s former unit. These missives encourage Mike to embrace the glory days of high school, and so he tries, until a bully on the football teams begins to haze him. This is a literary, nuanced, respectful treatment of a number of complicated themes, from sports dynamics to the military, many of which hinge upon secrets that, should they surface, would have ramifications for everyone.


InexcuseableInexcusableBy Chris Lynch. 2005. Atheneum, $16.95 (9781416939726). Gr. 10–12.

It could be argued that Lynch’s landmark book, told from the point of view of an accused rapist, is a foundational text of these sorts of books: fueled by adrenaline, morally inconclusive, and offering more questions than answers. Keir, a most unreliable narrator, is trying to defend himself against the accusation. But to the reader, it feels like the culmination of a long string of overaggression, which stretches back to a football-team hazing incident caught on tape. An unnerving study of how permissiveness of violence can spread ever outward.


LeverageBy Joshua C. Cohen. 2011. Dutton, $16.99 (9780689847899). Gr. 10–12.

Cohen’s stunning debut focuses on Danny, a star on the gymnastics team but a pipsqueak as far as the hormone-pumped, college-scouted footballers are concerned. A competition erupts between the two squads, leading to a horrifying instance of hazing dealt out to one of Danny’s teammates. Told from the alternating perspectives of Danny and Kurt, a quiet new fullback, this is a rich, disturbing tale of being trapped inside expectations and forced to continue the established order—or pay the price.

Press PlayPress PlayBy Eric Devine. 2014. Running Press. $9.95 (9780762455126). Gr. 9–12.

Greg Dunsmore is 16, but here’s the more relevant number: 352. That’s his weight, which over the years has earned him the nickname Dun the Ton, but not a whole lot of friends. Fortunately, the one pal he has, Quinn, is a fitness fanatic and has begun to train Greg every day after school. It’s during a workout that they stumble upon the horrible hazing rituals of the championship lacrosse team, everything from stick beatings to being force-fed feces. A tough, smart look at weight issues, self-respect, and our intrinsic desire to belong at all costs.


RookieBy Lorna Schultz Nicholson. 2012. Lorimer, paper, $9.95 (9781459400245 ). Gr. 10–12.

Aaron may be small, but his speed, drive, and wits have earned him a place on the hockey team at an elite academy. There, however, he falls victim to a grueling hazing incident involving sexual assault. In the aftermath, his world is thrown off balance, and he chooses not to report it—until a second attack lands him in the hospital. This may be a short novel aimed at reluctant readers, but Aaron’s tortured decisions, none of which are tidy, contribute to the complicated, agonized feel.



Find more feature articles by Daniel Kraus

The Itch of Summer

end of summer


I’m getting itchy. Not like the sand-in-your-bathing-suit-been-sweating-it-out-in-the-sun-and-can’t-wait-for-a-shower kind. No, I’m twitchy all over because it’s the end of August.

This month is always chuck full for me, from birthdays to vacations to school prep, and so I get very little writing done. In fact, this August, I haven’t written any fiction. I’ve fallen off social media. I don’t even have a good book I’m reading (although I do intend to pick up Meg Abbott’s Fever).

And all this lack of schedule, where every day is Saturday, is getting to me. I need my structure back. I need my schedule of writing and then teaching and then reading and repeat. Within a week I’ll be back to work, and some of the schedule will fall into place. But there’s still no writing until the following week. I put my all into teaching and so the first week is all panic and excitement, which eventually leads to exhaustion. But by that next week, I’ve got a groove going, and I can usually get back to my other work.

The writing is paramount, but I’m also at the verge of promotion for Press Play. I think I have all my signing dates lined up. The trailer should be ready any minute, and there are other pieces under construction that I can’t wait to deliver. But not yet. And so the itch deepens.

As does the story I feel is tumbling around my head. I have a desire to speak about this topic, and I already have notes for characters and plot, and every time I encounter something that reminds me of the story, I email myself a note. Of which I have too many already.

So, in essence, it’s time. Summer is dying in the empty streets of town, as people squeeze out another trip or daylong excursion. And I’m watching, mind racing, itching to put everything in place and start my cycle again.

Summer’s over, and I have another story to tell.