When I first picked up this book, on my lunch break, I arbitrarily flipped to a page in the middle and started reading. I became so engrossed in it that I was late getting back to work from my lunch break. Such is the superb quality of writing that Bissinger brings to this book.
Friday Night Lights is about the Permian High School Panthers football team in the 1988 season. In Odessa, TX, they only "have two things - football and oil, and there ain't no more oil." Carried on the adolescent shoulders of the black-clad Panthers are the hopes, dreams, aspirations, and societal well-being of an entire community. The book focuses on the intense scrutiny and pressure placed on the players, coaches, and even families associated with the program. After a tough loss, the head coach can expect to have his house vandalized, his family verbally assaulted, and calls made for his firing. The student population of Permian is predominantly white, but the few black players imported from Odessa's poor, mostly black, south side are some of the team's most successful players. The book highlights the contrast in the white, wealthy suburban area Permian is located in against the older section of Odessa, populated mostly by blacks and Hispanics.
The book also profiles several of the team's star players. Some live for every single moment they can wear the Panthers uniform, while others are conflicted at having to play in such a pressure-cooker environment. Some are the lucky sons of Odessa's richest residents, bound for Ivy-League schools, while others come from painful poverty and broken homes. Odessa is portrayed as an entire city of broken dreams, devastated by the downturn in the oil industry where unemployment is high and crime higher. What holds the community together is the Friday Night Lights at Ratliff Stadium, where the Panthers do battle not only for team and school pride, but for the pride of an entire community and people. I cannot recommend this book more highly.