The best fiction with sporty characters

The Books I Picked & Why


By Chris Cleave

Book cover of Gold

Why this book?

This is a book I found out about when I was researching and writing my own book. It follows the story of three British cyclists, Zoe, Kate, and Jack, as they train for Olympic glory. Cleave writes about the glorious excitement of the sport, the brutal pain of training, and the hard choices these athletes have to make and his characters are unforgettable. 

Gold helped me realise that you can write a book that weaves sport into a story about love, friendship, loyalty, and grief. Gold was a great inspiration to me!

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By Christos Tsiolkas

Book cover of Barracuda

Why this book?

This book is set in Scotland and Australia, with the narrator Danny looking back on his time as a schoolboy champion swimmer. Danny wins a scholarship to a private school on a sports scholarship and is bullied mercilessly. He’s not the most likeable character, but he’s obsessed with training and winning and you can’t help but feel for him as his life spirals downwards.

I love this book for its unflinching honesty and flawed main character. The class aspects are interesting too, with a boy from a working-class background feeling out of place in his new upper-class school. 

What fascinated me about Barracuda was reading about how brutal sport can be on young people who train and train and train – and then fail.

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By Fredrik Backman

Book cover of Beartown

Why this book?

Beartown has so many aspects to it that I love in a book, I’m not sure where to start. Small town, sport, rich versus poor, family tension, first love, secrets, a crime, strong female characters – it’s all there in this book, plus a skilled author with a distinctive strong voice who is constantly asking questions and answering them, and hitting the reader with truth after truth about growing up, about how money controls sport, about the pressure on young people, and about loyalty and sacrifice. 

This novel isn’t exactly feel-good but it has moments of glimmering hope and it’s an amazing experience to read it. I can’t recommend it enough.

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The Power of One

By Bryce Courtenay

Book cover of The Power of One

Why this book?

This is one of only a few books that I have re-read several times in my life. It’s not a perfect book – it could do with some editing – but it’s a compelling story with a unique character at the heart of it. It’s the story of a young white boy, Peekay, growing up in Apartheid South Africa, who has a special gift. The sport in this book is boxing, but – as in most books about sport – it’s really about other things: coming of age, politics, violence, class, race, nature, magic, love, and friendship. I was so inspired by this book that in my book the main character Pip gave it to someone as a birthday gift, and he loved it too.

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By Dan Freedman

Book cover of Unstoppable

Why this book?

I would recommend Unstoppable to children (boys and girls) aged about 10 – 14 years old. Roxy and Kaine are twins – she plays tennis, he plays football, and they have a troubled home life. I remember that being a teenager is difficult enough, with all the confusion, uncertainty, and pressure it brings, but in this book you also throw in elite sport, knife crime, ambitious parents, and sibling rivalry. It’s the kind of book you might give to your son or daughter and you wouldn’t see them again until they’ve finished it. Should be called Unputdownable.

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