In case you’re new to the Pond’s book recommendation posts, the recommendation posts are brought to you by Varian, the Pond’s very own Toadshifter who is knowledgeable in all kinds of magic! One of Varian’s ambitions is to get better at sewing, hence why whenever Varian has come up with their latest costume, they will always recommend a few books that inspired them!
With the end of the Tokyo Olympics 2020 earlier this week, we thought: why not put together a list of stories about sport or sporty people?! I’ve never been a sporty person nor do I really watch much sport – though, does watching Haikyuu!! count? – but I do on occasion enjoy a story that centers on sports.
One of the beautiful things about sport is how it brings people together – it’s an avenue for celebration, grief, joy, and camaraderie. What I love about stories about sport is how it humanises athletes – people who we place so much hopes and dreams and pressure on, but, at the end of the day, are still people. Sports are also a huge part of people’s lives and having sport as a way to connect with others and to other people’s lives – like family life, our dreams and futures, and the barriers that we face.
So, here are our recommendations for books about sports and sporty people!
Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez
In Rosario, Argentina, Camila Hassan lives a double life.
At home, she is a careful daughter, living within her mother’s narrow expectations, in her rising-soccer-star brother’s shadow, and under the abusive rule of her short-tempered father.
On the field, she is La Furia, a powerhouse of skill and talent. When her team qualifies for the South American tournament, Camila gets the chance to see just how far those talents can take her. In her wildest dreams, she’d get an athletic scholarship to a North American university.
But the path ahead isn’t easy. Her parents don’t know about her passion. They wouldn’t allow a girl to play fútbol—and she needs their permission to go any farther. And the boy she once loved is back in town. Since he left, Diego has become an international star, playing in Italy for the renowned team Juventus. Camila doesn’t have time to be distracted by her feelings for him. Things aren’t the same as when he left: she has her own passions and ambitions now, and La Furia cannot be denied. As her life becomes more complicated, Camila is forced to face her secrets and make her way in a world with no place for the dreams and ambition of a girl like her.
Furia is a stunning and gorgeous read that highlights the strength of young girls and women, set in the backdrop of Argentina and one girl’s passion for fútbol.
- Set in Argentina, the story deftly balances so many different parts of Camila’s life – the ups and downs of first love, machismo, parental abuse, following your dreams, and Camila’s love and passion for fútbol.
- The story explores feminism within Argentina, where several young girls have been missing or found dead. It speaks to the anger of young girls, who don’t want to be the next victim or statistic, and it’s about how doing what you love without permission is a form of resistance.
- The romance in this was at times soft, at times heartbreaking; the story is less about love, more about how love for someone and doing what you love can be at odds, and how putting yourself first and loving yourself can be challenging but also worth it.
The Comeback by E.L. Shen
Twelve-year-old Maxine Chen is just trying to nail that perfect landing: on the ice, in middle school, and at home, where her parents worry that competitive skating is too much pressure for a budding tween. Maxine isn’t concerned, however–she’s determined to glide to victory. But then a bully at school starts teasing Maxine for her Chinese heritage, leaving her stunned and speechless. And at the rink, she finds herself up against a stellar new skater named Hollie, whose grace and skill threaten to edge Maxine out of the competition. With everything she knows on uneven ice, will Maxine crash under the pressure? Or can she power her way to a comeback?
The Comeback may be a love letter to ice-skating, but it is also a love letter to all the young Asian kids who ever felt different, that young people are ultimately special, worthy, and have so much potential.
- I love how the story explores the pressures of sport and competing, especially for a younger athlete, and how the pressure can affect mental health.
- The story also examines how sport can be tied to white standards of beauty (Maxine struggles with her monolids) and also race-related bullying and microaggressions, and how they can be really hurtful.
- I loved Maxine’s unequivocally supportive parents who stand up for her, love her with their whole hearts, and take her to all her competitions and practices.
After the Shot Drops by Randy Ribay
Bunny and Nasir have been best friends forever, but when Bunny accepts an athletic scholarship across town, Nasir feels betrayed. While Bunny tries to fit in with his new, privileged peers, Nasir spends more time with his cousin, Wallace, who is being evicted. Nasir can’t help but wonder why the neighborhood is falling over itself to help Bunny when Wallace is in trouble.
When Wallace makes a bet against Bunny, Nasir is faced with an impossible decision—maybe a dangerous one.
Told from alternating perspectives, After the Shot Drops is a heart-pounding story about the responsibilities of great talent and the importance of compassion.
If you’re looking for a story with complex friendships, incredible emotional arcs of two basketball playing teens, and privilege, then look no further than After the Shot Drops.
- Follows Nasir (who is Filipino and Black) and Bunny (who is Black) following their friendship fallout after Bunny moves to a privileged school – and how their relationship gets even more complicated amid the push and pull of basketball, competing, and Nasir’s cousin, Wallace.
- The emotional arcs of both boys were so good – complicated, nuanced, and incredibly relatable.
- It’s also a great exploration of privilege, the pressure of performing in sports (and the stakes, especially for students who are poorer), and the decisions that we make – and how it can affect other people.
Blazewrath Games by Amparo Ortiz
Lana Torres has always preferred dragons to people. In a few weeks, sixteen countries will compete in the Blazewrath World Cup, a tournament where dragons and their riders fight for glory in a dangerous relay. Lana longs to represent her native Puerto Rico in their first ever World Cup appearance, and when Puerto Rico’s Runner—the only player without a dragon steed—is kicked off the team, she’s given the chance.
But when she discovers that a former Blazewrath superstar has teamed up with the Sire—a legendary dragon who’s cursed into human form—the safety of the Cup is jeopardized. The pair are burning down dragon sanctuaries around the world and refuse to stop unless the Cup gets cancelled. All Lana wanted was to represent her country. Now, to do that, she’ll have to navigate an international conspiracy that’s deadlier than her beloved sport.
How about a story about a fictional sport? That involves dragons?! Blazewrath Games is an action-packed and exciting sports fantasy.
- Centered on a fictional magical sport called Blazewrath which involves dragons, and the story follows the main character, Lana, as she represents Puerto Rico in the World Cup!
- There’s plenty of heart-pumping action and the way Blazewrath and its rules are explained are easy to follow and so engaging.
- The story isn’t just about the sport though; it’s also set in a world with magic and a magic system, explores team spirit and working as a team through thick and thin, and also a shocking conspiracy underlying the Blazewrath world.
Running with Lions by Julian Winters
Bloomington High School Lions’ star goalie, Sebastian Hughes, should be excited about his senior year: His teammates are amazing and he’s got a coach who doesn’t ask anyone to hide their sexuality. But when his estranged childhood best friend Emir Shah shows up to summer training camp, Sebastian realizes the team’s success may end up in the hands of the one guy who hates him. Determined to reconnect with Emir for the sake of the Lions, he sets out to regain Emir’s trust. But to Sebastian’s surprise, sweaty days on the pitch, wandering the town’s streets, and bonding on the weekends sparks more than just friendship between them.
Julian Winters is our undisputed king of soft Black queer boys in YA, so we’re delighted to include Running with Lions to this list!
- Soft, cute, and incredibly wholesome, Running with Lions has such a genuinely wonderful romance that is a little angsty, fun, and filled with so many cheesey tropes that we all love.
- Sebastian has to balance between being the team’s new captain (and he struggles with his sense of worth to be captain) and navigating the fraught relationship he has with Emir.
- Centred entirely on a summer soccer camp, there’s plenty of banter and fun, while also exploring topics like anti-gay rhetoric in sport, bullying, and body positivity.
A Map to the Sun by Sloane Leong
One summer day, Ren meets Luna at a beachside basketball court and a friendship is born. But when Luna moves to back to Oahu, Ren’s messages to her friend go unanswered.
Years go by. Then Luna returns, hoping to rekindle their friendship. Ren is hesitant. She’s dealing with a lot, including family troubles, dropping grades, and the newly formed women’s basketball team at their highschool. With Ren’s new friends and Luna all on the basketball team, the lines between their lives on and off the court begin to blur. During their first season, this diverse and endearing group of teens are challenged in ways that make them reevaluate just who and how they trust.
Sloane Leong’s evocative storytelling about the lives of these young women is an ode to the dynamic nature of friendship.
I read A Map to the Sun in one sitting – and I think that’s a testament to how good and compelling this graphic novel is.
- This graphic novel is like a ‘slice-of-life’; there isn’t a distinct plot to the story, other than the fact that this book follows their friendship, particularly between the tenuous and electric friendship between Ren, a Black teen, and Luna, a Hawaiian-Chinese teen.’
- The art in this book is gorgeous. I was enamoured by Leong’s use of colour to create mood and the gradual gradient across the story.
- A Map to the Sun explores how teens and people are messy, how friendships can be messy, how the world is unkind to girls who are growing into themselves, and depicts some really vulnerable moments.
Here to Stay by Sara Farizan
For most of high school, Bijan Majidi has flown under the radar. He gets good grades, reads comics, hangs out with his best friend, Sean, and secretly crushes on Elle, one of the most popular girls in his school. When he’s called off the basketball team’s varsity bench and makes the winning basket in a playoff game, everything changes in an instant.
But not everyone is happy that Bijan is the man of the hour: an anonymous cyberbully sends the entire school a picture of Bijan photoshopped to look like a terrorist. His mother is horrified, and the school administration is outraged. They promise to find and punish the culprit. All Bijan wants is to pretend it never happened and move on, but the incident isn’t so easily erased. Though many of his classmates rally behind Bijan, some don’t want him or his type to be a part of their school. And Bijan’s finding out it’s not always easy to tell your enemies from your friends . . .
I love how this book has the softness of friendship and crushes as well as a timely and astute exploration of racism, classism, and legacy politics! I read this in two sittings – it was such a good and easy read.
- Bijan, who is Iranian-Jordanian, is so awkward and so charming. He just really loves basketball and just wants to play, but gets caught up in anti-Muslim threats and a student-led movement to change the school’s pro-gun mascot.
- The humour in this is delightful – it just catches you off guard and it made me laugh out loud a few times!
- But I also really appreciated how this story deftly explores the impact of racism, allyship, bullying, and unlikely friendships.
Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert
Danika Brown knows what she wants: professional success, academic renown, and an occasional roll in the hay to relieve all that career-driven tension. But romance? Been there, done that, burned the T-shirt. Romantic partners, whatever their gender, are a distraction at best and a drain at worst. So Dani asks the universe for the perfect friend-with-benefits—someone who knows the score and knows their way around the bedroom.
When brooding security guard Zafir Ansari rescues Dani from a workplace fire drill gone wrong, it’s an obvious sign: PhD student Dani and ex-rugby player Zaf are destined to sleep together. But before she can explain that fact, a video of the heroic rescue goes viral. Now half the internet is shipping #DrRugbae—and Zaf is begging Dani to play along. Turns out, his sports charity for kids could really use the publicity. Lying to help children? Who on earth would refuse?
Dani’s plan is simple: fake a relationship in public, seduce Zaf behind the scenes. The trouble is, grumpy Zaf’s secretly a hopeless romantic—and he’s determined to corrupt Dani’s stone-cold realism. Before long, he’s tackling her fears into the dirt. But the former sports star has issues of his own, and the walls around his heart are as thick as his… um, thighs.
Suddenly, the easy lay Dani dreamed of is more complex than her thesis. Has her wish backfired? Is her focus being tested? Or is the universe just waiting for her to take a hint?
If you love romance stories that are delightful, will make you laugh, and the fake-dating trope, then you’ll love Take a Hint, Dani Brown – and there’s sport in here too!
- If you love messy, grumpy, but soft characters, then you’ll adore the characters in Dani Brown. Dani and Zafir have incredible chemistry and their dynamic was both wonderful and exciting to read.
- Zafir, the love interest, was a former rugby player – and has his own non-profit organisation where he works with athletes to destigmatise mental illness and teaches anti-toxic masculinity!
- The fake-dating trope in this is such a delight. It’s a little silly (in a good way!) but it’s incredibly fun.
Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu
Helloooo, Internet Land. Bitty here!
Y’all… I might not be ready for this. I may be a former junior figure skating champion, vlogger extraordinaire, and very talented amateur pâtissier, but being a freshman on the Samwell University hockey team is a whole new challenge. It’s nothing like co-ed club hockey back in Georgia! First of all? There’s checking. And then, there is Jack—our very attractive but moody captain.
A collection of the first half of the megapopular webcomic series of the same name, Check, Please!: #Hockey is the first book of a hilarious and stirring two-volume coming-of-age story about hockey, bros, and trying to find yourself during the best four years of your life.
How about another sporty graphic novel? If you haven’t read the widely beloved series, Check, Please! then you will definitely want to add this to your to-read list.
- Incredibly sweet and heartwarming, this story is about a vlogger and (ice) hockey player who joins his college’s new hockey team.
- It also has a delightful slow-burn m/m romance, and the adorable moments were such a joy to read.
- Check, Please! is perfect for readers looking for a ‘slice of life’ story and with incredibly charming art to boot.
Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen! by Sarah Kapit
Vivy Cohen wants to play baseball. Ever since her hero, Major League star pitcher VJ Capello, taught her how to throw a knuckleball at a family fun day for kids with autism, she’s been perfecting her pitch. And now she knows she’s ready to play on a real team. When her social skills teacher makes her write a letter to someone she knows, she writes to VJ and tells him everything about how much she wants to pitch, and how her mom says she can’t because she’s a girl and because she has autism. And then two amazing things happen: Vivy meets a Little League coach who invites her to join his team, the Flying Squirrels. And VJ starts writing back.
This is such a sweet and charming novel about baseball – and after reading this book, I felt like I learned so much about baseball. (I don’t know much about baseball at all!)
- I loved how the letter format was done. I was so engaged by Vivy’s letters and shared her joy when VJ wrote back. I looked forward to seeing how each character responded to each other – it was a lot of fun! I also enjoyed how the story explores boundaries and the pressures that sportspeople face.
- The story does explore girls in sports and the barriers they face, especially an autistic girl where baseball is her special interest.
- The story does depict bullying and how Vivy gets bullied for being a girl in an otherwise all-boys baseball team. The coach and a friend she makes on the team are wonderful and really supportive though.
Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee
A rising star in the weightless combat sport of zeroboxing, Carr “the Raptor” Luka dreams of winning the championship title. Recognizing his talent, the Zero Gravity Fighting Association assigns Risha, an ambitious and beautiful Martian colonist, to be his brandhelm––a personal marketing strategist. It isn’t long before she’s made Carr into a popular celebrity and stolen his heart along the way.
As his fame grows, Carr becomes an inspirational hero on Earth, a once-great planet that’s fallen into the shadow of its more prosperous colonies. But when Carr discovers a far-reaching criminal scheme, he becomes the keeper of a devastating secret. Not only will his choices place everything he cares about in jeopardy, but they may also spill the violence from the sports arena into the solar system.
If you love more fictional sports, may I suggest YA/adult (with crossover appeal!) SFF Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee, which is probably one of my favourite sport books to date.
- Zeroboxing was such an exciting sport – it’s essentially mixed martial arts in zero gravity.
- The action scenes with zeroboxing are absolutely phenomenal; a delight for the senses and so brutal – I was at the edge of my seat reading the scenes!
- Set in future Earth/Terra and Mars, the book has incredible ideas and concepts about where technology will take humankind, and what humanity will look like in the future.