The best books when you need a “clear eyes, full hearts” kind of feeling

Who am I?

I was born into a household that loved sports. My brother was a track star, and I was his Tomboy little sister who eagerly took his old shirts and jackets and wore them proudly. I played hard myself, and even dabbled in sports reporting as a journalist. I’ve always found the stories behind the sport to be the richest part, though. I love the characters—real or fiction. Every person on a field, on the court, on the ice, in the water, has a story to tell. I think that same sense goes for small towns too, and so I gravitate to books that blend the two. Now, if you can throw in a love story, I say that’s a trifecta!

I wrote...

The Hard Count

By Ginger Scott,

Book cover of The Hard Count

What is my book about?

Football and private school politics can break the toughest souls. I would know; I’m Reagan Prescott—coach’s daughter, sister to the prodigal son, the perfect family. Lies. Nico Medina is the boy from West End. Our worlds are eleven miles apart, and where each is beautiful, the other is ugly. 

In our twisted worlds, a boy from West End is the only shining light. And he owns my heart completely.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream

Why did I love this book?

If you’re in the know, you understand the tagline used in my book list. It comes from the TV show inspired by this amazing work of journalism. I first read Friday Night Lights in college 25 years ago as a sociology/history assignment. A major sports fan, I was excited to see a book about high school football on my required list. This book,’s about so much more. This inside look at a year spent with one of the most dominant Texas high school football programs delves into the politics of small towns, the pressure put on young athletes, personal identity, and what happens when the one thing that seems to matter more than oil in Texas is stripped away—playing days.

While I do love the movie and show this book inspired, it’s Bissinger’s book that deserves to be made mandatory reading for the blunt, heartbreaking, and semi-hopeful portrait it paints of race, football culture, and the status we give people with one singular talent—football. 

By H.G. Bissinger,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Friday Night Lights as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The 25th anniversary edition of the #1 New York Times bestseller and Sports Illustrated 's best football book of all time, with a new afterword by the authorReturn once again to the timeless account of the Permian Panthers of Odessa,the winningest high-school football team in Texas history. Socially and racially divided, Odessa isn't known to be a place big on dreams, but every Friday night from September to December, when the Panthers play football, dreams can come true.With frankness and compassion, H. G. Bissinger unforgettably captures a season in the life of Odessa and shows how single-minded devotion to the…

The Outsiders

By S.E. Hinton,

Book cover of The Outsiders

Why did I love this book?

It might not be about football, but The Outsiders shares a common thread with my first recommendation—it’s an honest portrait of life in the Bible Belt and small-town America. Like many, I was assigned this book in junior high. I liked it then, but I was too young to appreciate the fact that the author was just a few years older than me at the time when she wrote it. The youthfulness and angst stuck with me, but as I got older and revisited the book, I saw the bigger picture it painted. I think anyone who wants to delve into writing YA should spend time with The Outsiders. The realness to the characters is something special, the kind of magic only a young writer penning a story about her world can achieve. 

By S.E. Hinton,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked The Outsiders as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

50 years of an iconic classic! This international bestseller and inspiration for a beloved movie is a heroic story of friendship and belonging.

Cover may vary.

No one ever said life was easy. But Ponyboy is pretty sure that he's got things figured out. He knows that he can count on his brothers, Darry and Sodapop. And he knows that he can count on his friends-true friends who would do anything for him, like Johnny and Two-Bit. But not on much else besides trouble with the Socs, a vicious gang of rich kids whose idea of a good time is…


By Fredrik Backman,

Book cover of Beartown

Why did I love this book?

This book is both inspiring and troubling at the same time, and I use that word—troubling—in a praiseworthy sense. To write a story about a town’s hopes resting on a group of young hockey players seems easy at its surface. That story, the scrappy young athletes going against the bigger, better, richer teams, is the stuff movies are made of. But what Backman does by pitting a town’s despair from economic woes with the horrors of allegations of abuse puts the reader at the center of the same difficult crossroads the characters are facing. How do you celebrate when it means sweeping an atrocity under the rug? This book is a hard read, but it is brilliant, and I have yet to meet a reader who hasn’t come out the other side feeling changed. 

By Fredrik Backman,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Beartown as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?



'I utterly believed in the residents of Beartown and felt ripped apart by the events in the book' JOJO MOYES

'I couldn't put it down. Heart-rending and engrossing' 5***** Reader Review

In a large Swedish forest, Beartown hides a dark secret . . .

Cut-off from everywhere else, it experiences the kind of isolation that tears people apart.

And each year, more and more of the town is swallowed by the forest.

Then the town is offered…

The Rest of the Story

By Sarah Dessen,

Book cover of The Rest of the Story

Why did I love this book?

This book isn’t about sports. But it has that small-town vibe that fills a craving you might have. More than that, this book is about knowing yourself and finding that one person who fits with the jagged pieces of your own puzzle. Dessen is a queen of young adult swoon, but what I think she does to perfection is capture the emotions surrounding friendship. This book hits the very core of why everyone needs that one person.

By Sarah Dessen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Rest of the Story as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From number one New York Times bestselling author Sarah Dessen comes a big-hearted novel about a girl who reconnects with a part of her family she hasn't seen since she was a little girl - and falls in love, all over the course of a magical summer.

Emma Saylor doesn't remember a lot about her mother, who died when she was ten. But she does remember the stories her mom told her about the big lake that went on forever.

Now it's just Emma and her dad, and life is good, if a little predictable . . . until Emma…

The Art of Fielding

By Chad Harbach,

Book cover of The Art of Fielding

Why did I love this book?

One, baseball is my favorite sport. I will also argue until my dying day that baseball is romantic and filled with the kind of drama one might only find in a duel at dawn. The pressure on each individual player, the team, the superstitions carried out faithfully by the fans—baseball is the purest of them all. This book is pure joy and readers, as well as baseball fans, will identify with young college shortstop Henry Skrimshander as he dreams big on the field and learns the hard lessons of life as a young adult. It’s coming-of-age perfection. 

By Chad Harbach,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Art of Fielding as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Introducing the Collins Modern Classics, a series featuring some of the most significant books of recent times, books that shed light on the human experience - classics which will endure for generations to come.

Henry Skrimshander, newly arrived at college, shy and out of his depth, has a talent for baseball that borders on genius. But sometimes it seems that his only friend is big Mike Schwartz - who champions the talents of others, at the expense of his own. And Owen, Henry's clever, charismatic, gay roommate, who has a secret that could put his brilliant college career in jeopardy.…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in family secrets, Texas, and gangs?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about family secrets, Texas, and gangs.

Family Secrets Explore 156 books about family secrets
Texas Explore 181 books about Texas
Gangs Explore 19 books about gangs