Get in the Game! YA fiction that features sports
On Sunday night I took part in a Twitter chat under the hashtag #TitleTalk about sports fiction. The truth is, I’m not a big sports fan. In fact, when people talk about some people not liking to read for recreation I use sports as my go-to example: I’m never going to like sports for fun and that’s okay, just as it is okay that some people don’t like reading for fun. What IS important is that everyone CAN read. Literacy is an important, life saving skill. Reading for pleasure – well, I don’t understand it if that’s not how you choose to spend your time and I feel like you’re missing out on a lot, but it’s not the end of the world. We each have our passions and I respect that. But sports can be a great way to get some more reluctant readers into books if you can connect them to a book that features a sport they enjoy. Plus, regular readers just like to read about the things that interest them, which I understand for a lot of people this can be sports. So let’s talk sports in YA fiction, shall we? Also, don’t forget all the awesome nonfiction and biography titles in your collection!
Some of my Go To sports authors include:
Chris Crutcher, Carl Deuker, Simone Elkeles, John Feinstein, Robert Lipsyte, Mike Lupica, Chris Lynch, and Paul Volpini. Crutcher is a particular favorite of mine and illustrates how a book can have sports in it but not actually be about sports. Miranda Kenneally, Catherine Gilbert Murdock and Sarah Ockler often feature sports in their titles. And of course Walter Dean Myers features sports in a lot of his titles.
TAP OUT by Eric Devine features a young man who gets involved in MMA fighting.
HOOKED by Liz Fichera features golf, including a female golf player.
Baseball is featured in MEXICAN WHITE BOY by Matt de la Pena, CURVEBALL: THE YEAR I LOST MY GRIP by Jordan Sonnenblick and PLUNKED by Michael Northrop, to name a few.
Rugby is highlighted in WINTER by Andrew Smith, a breakaway hit from 2013.
Cheerleading is featured in titles like I WAS A NON-BLONDE CHEERLEADER by Kieran Scott and BAD TASTE IN BOYS by Carrie Harris.
Soccer shows up in the graphic novel series WHISTLE by Daisuke Higuchi and the novel SHUT OUT by Kody Keplinger.
High school sports culture plays an important part in CANARY by Rachele Alpine, THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE by Jennifer Matthieu and SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL by Trish Doller. Each of these titles highlight the way that sport culture can shape a person’s character. In SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL, the main character, Travis, is the son of a professional football player and we he quits football in high school it dramatically impacted their relationship. And CANARY and THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE highlight the way that sports culture allows athletes – even high school athletes – to get away with abhorrent behavior. Football and high school sports culture also place a prominent role in INEXCUSABLE by Chris Lynch.
THIS SIDE OF SALVATION by Jeri Smith-Redy features a male protagonist who is a dedicated to baseball, which is a huge part of his personal identity. Eventually, as a sign of his faith, he is asked to sacrifice his involvement in this sport to prepare for the upcoming “Rush”, what the rapture is referred to in this title.
I am a huge fan of UNTIL IT HURTS TO STOP by Jennifer R. Hubbard for many reasons. But one of the things I love is that it features a female main character that that goes hiking and mountain climbing with her male best friend.
If we’re going to kick it old school, I think the first sports themed book that truly moved me was WRESTLING STURBRIDGE by Rich Wallace. It really captures the desperation to get out of small town life and how for many teens, sports and a sports scholarship are their only hope. And in the not truly YA (they are MG titles), I think everyone should read TANGERINE by Edward Bloor and CRASH by Jerry Spinelli. TANGERINE is quirky and compelling. CRASH is touching and humorous.
The upcoming IN DEEP by Terra Elan McVoy features Brynn, a young lady training as a swimmer. Brief blurb for IN DEEP: “Ultracompetitive Brynn from The Summer of Firsts and Lasts craves swimming victory—and gets in over her head—in this irresistible novel from Terra Elan McVoy.” Given my love for WHALETALK and STAYING FAT FOR SARAH BYRNES, which both feature swimming, it seems like this is my kind of book.
In the upcoming PERFECTLY GOOD WHITE BOY by Carrie Mesrobian the main character takes up track as he prepared to join the military after high school. Running is also featured in the upcoming ON THE ROAD TO FIND OUT by Rachel Toor, described as “a funny, uplifting debut about running, romance—and dealing with college rejection and other hurdles.” While you are waiting for these, be sure to check out THE RUNNING DREAM by Wendelin VanDraanen for an older and excellent title about running.
And in the upcoming BLEED LIKE ME by Christa Desir a female skateboarder is featured. Skateboarding is also featured in SLAM by Nick Hornby and THOU SHALT NOT DUMP THE SKATER DUDE AND OTHER COMMANDMENTS I HAVE BROKEN by RoseMary Graham.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, because sports are a huge part of Middle and High School life and they make an appearance in a lot of titles. Goodreads can be a good place to start looking: Popular YA Sports Books on Goodreads, YA Sports Novels (188) on Goodreads. In fact, leave a comment telling us about some of your favorite titles to help build a great resource list for others. Do you know of any upcoming YA titles that feature sports? Share those with us as well please.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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