This content contains affiliate links. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through these links.
As a kid and teenager, I was exposed to many inspirational sports films that featured too toxic masculinity and masculine characters figuring out the real meaning of teamwork. In contrast, it seemed as if women competed against each other in every film about female athletes. It made me not particularly fond of sports stories, but I’m happy to say that my feelings have changed recently.
The past two years have been an incredible time for YA books about girls in sports, whether they’re solo athletes or working with a team, and I’m here for all of the wild, feminist, and powerful girls who claim their space and kick Butt – literally and figuratively. Kelly did a great job highlighting last year’s publications in Hey YA, and I had the pleasure of talking to YA writer Emma Kress recently about her favorite sports books. I wanted to go a step further and highlight some of my personal favorites and most anticipated readings in late 2020 and 2021! These books deal with team sports that we may be familiar with, and they go beyond that by depicting sports that are not in the spotlight as much. They made me a sports fan!
Sajni Patel’s knockout
Kareena Thakkar is about to make her wildest dreams come true. She has participated in Muay Thai competitions for years, and what began as a stress reliever option after her father was diagnosed with an incurable disease has become her passion. Now she has been invited to the US Muay Thai Open, and if she wins she can go to the Olympics very well. But she faces some challenges – the financial cost is too high for her family, and her father’s health suffers. Her family has become estranged from her Indian community and Kareena’s struggles are considered unladylike. And now, to keep her grades up, Kareena has agreed to teach Amit Patel, who is perhaps the most perfect Indian boy she has ever met … and she happens to fall in love with him. This is a powerful book about freedom of choice, being proud of yourself and your abilities, and not letting anyone dictate your life. She is also not afraid of the intensity of training and the mental challenges that Kareena faces as a top athlete.
She drives me crazy about Kelly Quindlen
Scottie is devastated when her friend Tally breaks up with her and moves to a “better” school in the next town. Now Scottie and Tally are rivals on the basketball court and that puzzles them. When a game goes bad for Scottie, she accidentally gets into a fender with Irene Abraham, the cool cheerleader at her school. Scottie and Irene are forced to carpool until Irene’s car is fixed, and forge a fake dating scheme to make Tally jealous … but it backfires when they both sense emotion! I loved the way this book talks about the nuances of unhealthy vs. healthy relationships and how Quindlen examines Irene’s efforts to gain recognition as an athlete in her chosen sport.
Dangerous piece by Emma Kress
Zoe has a plan: train hard, win the state championship in field hockey, get a scholarship, and get out of her hometown. Not on schedule? Getting attacked at a party. Now Zoe has a new plan that is to team up with her fellow passenger Ava and her teammates to do their own vigilante style justice in their town so that no girl ever has to feel what Zoe is after her attack. But when a night of vigilante justice shakes, Zoe finds that whatever she wants is in danger, including her beloved friends. This is a powerful book that is both about the love of a sport and the deep bonds that form between female teammates.
What’s going on in YA? Newsletter
Sign up for What’s Up in YA? to get everything to do with youth literature.
Thanks for signing up! Keep an eye on your inbox.
In the same boat as Holly Green
Everyone in Sadie’s family has competed in and completed the Texas River Odyssey, a 265-mile boat race over three days. Sadie is excited to be paddling her first race, but when she makes a mistake at a crucial moment, she has to stop. A year later, her father still can’t look her in the eye, and Sadie is determined to do differently this year. But when her brother, her partner, leaves her on bail at the last minute, Sadie is forced to team up with her former boyfriend and current rival, Cully, to take part in the race. As they push their limits, Sadie and Cully face the circumstances that have ended their friendship, the fierce rivalry between their families, and what kind of people this race demands of them. Most of the book takes place during the three day race, which makes this book a tense but emotionally powerful read.
Squeezed by Tanya Boteju
Daya Wijesinghe doesn’t mind bruises. They are an immediate pain that distracts her from the deeper grief she feels after losing her parents in a terrible accident that she survived. This is how Daya is drawn to roller derby: It is an intense physical sport and the possibilities for bruising are limitless. But the sport is also quite demanding when it comes to understanding the rules and strategy, and while Daya doesn’t mind the bruises, she has a hard time becoming a team player. But her new teammates are generous and supportive, and in order to be fully present on the team, they will make Daya face her greatest pain.
Cheer Up: Love and Pom-Poms by Crystal Frasier and Val Wise, with Oscar Jupiter
Annie is a sarcastic, quick-talking lesbian whose antisocial tendencies concern her headmistress and mother. When they make an urgent suggestion that she make an extracurricular friend and a few friends, Annie is forced to try herself for the cheer team. Usually not her thing, but it makes her bond with Beatrice, the Cheer Captain and the only openly transgender girl in the school. Annie and BeBe share a bond that begins as a friendship, connects through additional training sessions, but soon deepens into more. Meanwhile, BeBe faces overprotective parents and performative allies within the cheer team, and she must learn to stand up for herself with Annie’s support.
Like other girls from Britta Lundin
When Mara is kicked off the basketball team for a fight she is only partially to blame for, she desperately looks for a new sport that proves she can be a team player. She suggests soccer. After all, her brother plays and she has always loved the sport. But joining the soccer team and being a natural just seems to exaggerate all that she’s not like other girls – namely queer and not a female girl. Expecting her fall from the football team in a small Oregon town, things get complicated as more girls join the team with Mara, including her crush and the rival who kicked her off the basketball team in the first place.
A card to the sun by Sloane Leong
In this beautiful graphic novel, full of rich colors and dreamy illustrations, two girls named Ren and Luna join forces on the basketball court, only to abruptly leave Luna and cut off all contact. Time goes by and Ren doesn’t forget her friend, but when Luna comes back to town and wants to pick up where they left off, Ren is cautious. She has a lot on her plate, including the newly formed women’s basketball team and a tough personal life. But when Luna joins the team, the girls find that their relationship is developing again and Ren can no longer leave Luna on the pitch. But it turns out that their season is going to challenge them all in ways they could never imagine.
Make sure to check out Hey YA for more great YA book recommendations!