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

The Books I Picked & Why

Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream

By H.G. Bissinger

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

Why 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. 

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The Outsiders

By S.E. Hinton

Book cover of The Outsiders

Why 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. 

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By Fredrik Backman

Book cover of Beartown

Why 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. 

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The Rest of the Story

By Sarah Dessen

Book cover of The Rest of the Story

Why 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.

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The Art of Fielding

By Chad Harbach

Book cover of The Art of Fielding

Why 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. 

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