YA novels where high school and sporting ambition collides
These novels explore both the physical and mental toll of striving for excellence in sport as a young person. The stories are filled with losses and triumphs, as well as learning when to push forward and when to let go.
Break the Fall by Jennifer Iacopelli
The only thing seventeen-year-old Audrey Lee dreams about is swinging her way to Olympic glory. Nothing is going to stop her, not even the agony in her back. Every spasm and ache will be worth it once she has that gold medal around her neck. But none of her training prepares her for her coach being led away in handcuffs, accused by a fellow gymnast of the unthinkable. No one knows what, or who to believe and Audrey’s teammates go into meltdown.
As the Olympic torch closes in, Audrey has no idea who to trust, let alone what life holds after her final dismount. The only thing she can do is hope that in the end, belief in herself and what’s left of her team, will be enough for gold.
The Other Side of Perfect by Mariko Turk
Alina Keeler was destined to dance, but one terrifying fall shatters her leg - and her dreams of a ballet career along with it. Now she must trade her preprofessional dance classes for normal high school, where she reluctantly joins the musical. Rehearsals are nothing compared to Alina’s past life, but the stage does offer more than she expected - namely her castmate Jude.
However, finding a new normal means making peace with her past and acknowledging the racism she faced. Deep down, Alina still yearns for the world of ballet she left behind. But what does it mean to love something beautiful, yet broken? And as broken as she feels, can she ever open her heart to someone else?
Bruised by Tanya Boteju
To Daya Wijesinghe, a bruise is a mixture of comfort and control. Since her parents died in an accident she survived, bruises have become a way to keep her pain on the surface of her skin so she doesn’t need to deal with the ache deep in her heart. So when chance and circumstances bring her to a roller derby bout, Daya is hooked.
The deeper Daya immerses herself into the world of roller derby, though, the more she realizes it’s not the simple physical pain-fest she was hoping for. Her rough-and-tumble teammates and their fans push her limits in ways she never imagined, bringing Daya to big truths about love, loss, strength, and healing.
The Crossover (GN) by Kwame Alexander and illustrated Dawud Anyabwile
12-year-old Josh and his twin Jordan have basketball in their blood. They’re kings of the court, star players for their school team. Their father used to be a champion player and they each want nothing more than to follow in his footsteps. Both on and off the court, there is conflict and hardship which will test Josh’s bond with his brother.
In this heartfelt graphic novel, the boys find that life doesn’t come with a play-book and it’s not all about winning.
The F Team by Rawah Arja
Meet Tariq Nader, leader of ‘The Wolf Pack' at Punchbowl High, who has been commanded by the new principal to join a football competition with his mates in order to rehabilitate the public image of their school. When the team is formed, Tariq learns there’s a major catch - half of the team is made up of white boys from Cronulla, aka enemy territory.
At school Tariq thinks he has life all figured out until he falls for a new girl called Jamila, who challenges everything he thought he knew. At home, his outspoken ways have brought him into conflict with his family. Now, with complications on all fronts, he has to dig deep to control his anger, and find what it takes to be a leader.
The Passing Playbook by Isaac Fitzsimons
Spencer Harris is a proud nerd, an awesome big brother and a Messi-in-training. He’s also transgender. After transitioning at his old school leads to a year of bullying, Spencer gets a fresh start at Oakley, the most liberal private school in Ohio.
At Oakley, Spencer seems to have it all- more accepting classmates, a decent shot at a starting position on the boy’s soccer team, and great new friends. The problem is, no one at Oakley knows Spencer is trans - he’s passing. So when a discriminatory law forces Spencer’s coach to bench him after he discovers the ‘F’ on Spencer’s birth certificate, Spencer has to make a choice- be sidelined or publicly fight for his right to play, even if it means coming out to everyone - including the guy he’s falling for.
A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti
Then… Annabelle’s life wasn’t perfect, but it was full-full of friends, family, love. And a boy…whose attention Annabelle found flattering and unsettling all at once. Until that attention intensified. Now… Annabelle is running. Running from the pain and the tragedy from the past year.
With only Grandpa Ed and the journal she fills with words she can’t speak out loud, Annabelle runs from Seattle to Washington, DC and toward a destination she doesn’t understand but is determined to reach. With every beat of her heart, every stride of her feet, Annabelle steps closer to healing-and the strength she discovers within herself to let love and hope back into her life.
Dragon Hoops (GN) by Gene Luen Yang
Gene doesn’t get sports. But at Bishop O'Dowd High School, it’s all anyone can talk about. The men’s varsity basketball team, the Dragons, is having a phenomenal season that’s been decades in the making. Each victory brings them closer to their ultimate goal: the California State Championships.
Once Gene gets to know these young all-stars, he realizes that their story is just as thrilling as anything he’s seen on a comic book page. What he doesn’t know yet is that this season is not only going to change the Dragons' lives, but his own life as well.