The best teen books about sports (and so much more)

Who am I?

I wasn’t a sporty teen, but I discovered rock climbing in my twenties and that later inspired my first novel, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go. I’m also a social worker, and even though my main character Cara is a competitive climber and the book features gripping (ha!) rock climbing scenes, the story is about much more – love and loss, finding home, the transformative power of nature. Sports and athleticism (or lack thereof) are something we can all relate to. What a great starting point for exploring our multi-faceted lives.


I wrote...

The Art of Holding on and Letting Go

By Kristin Bartley Lenz,

Book cover of The Art of Holding on and Letting Go

What is my book about?

Competitive climber Cara Jenkins feels most at home high off the ground, clinging to a rock wall by the tips of her fingers. She’s enjoyed a roaming life with her mountaineering parents, making the natural world her jungle gym, the writings of Annie Dillard and Henry David Thoreau her textbooks. But when tragedy strikes on an Ecuadorian mountaintop, Cara’s nomadic lifestyle comes to an abrupt halt.

Starting over at her grandparents’ home in suburban Detroit, Cara embarks on a year of discovery, uncovering unknown strengths, friendships, and first love. Cara’s journey illustrates the transformative power of nature, love and loss, and discovering that home can be far from where you started. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Rhyme & Rhythm: Poems for Student Athletes

Kristin Bartley Lenz Why did I love this book?

This anthology is full of heart and features a wide field of sports and experiences and identities. The poems are a mix of serious, moving, and funny moments, but most of all they’re relatable and accessible. I’ve read many of the poems several times, making new discoveries with each read, and other poems beg to be read aloud in a spoken word performance. This is a great collection for teens to enjoy by themselves, or for teachers to share in the classroom. It might even inspire you to write your own sports poem.

By Sarah J. Donovan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rhyme & Rhythm as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What is it like to be a student athlete? Basketballer, runner, swimmer, cyclist, gymnast, pitcher, wrestler, football, tennis or lacrosse player? And what is it like to balance school, practice, work, family life, love, and all that competing? What is it like for the heart, the mind, and the body? What is it like for the spirit?

Rhyme & Rhythm: Poems for Student Athletes captures through exquisite and heart-felt poetry the lives, pains, sufferings, revelations, grit, and triumphs of the student athlete. On the track, on the diamond, on the court, on the street, in the home, in the ring,…


Book cover of See No Color

Kristin Bartley Lenz Why did I love this book?

This coming-of-age novel features a sixteen-year-old star baseball playing girl, but that’s just the beginning. Alex is biracial, raised in a white family, and she struggles to find where she fits in. Race, gender, identity, adoption, body image – this novel explores hard-hitting issues with the complexity they deserve. I especially appreciate that the author wrote from her own experience as a transracial adoptee.

By Shannon Gibney,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked See No Color as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

"Transracial adoption is never oversimplified, airbrushed, or sentimentalized, but instead, it's portrayed with bracing honesty as the messy institution it is: rearranging families, blending cultural and biological DNA, loss and joy. An exceptionally accomplished debut." — Kirkus, starred review

For as long as she can remember, sixteen-year-old Alex Kirtridge has known two things about herself: She's a stellar baseball player. She's adopted.

Alex has had a comfortable childhood in Madison, Wisconsin. Despite some teasing, being a biracial girl in a wealthy white family hasn't been that big a deal. What mattered was that she was a star on the diamond,…


Book cover of This Train Is Being Held

Kristin Bartley Lenz Why did I love this book?

Welcome to the sweet romance of Isa, a dancer, and Alex, a baseball player, teenagers in New York with very different upbringings. Isa is a blonde, half-Cuban/half white, private school girl from a well-off family that’s falling apart behind the scenes. Alex is Dominican, attends public school, and divides his time between his divorced parents. He’s also a secret poet and leaves his poems for Isa to find on the subway train where they first met. Both have professional sports potential, but the reality is more complicated. The couple navigates challenges with their families and neighborhoods, including mental health and gangs, and you’ll be rooting for them the entire time. The author has a beautiful poem in the Rhyme and Rhythm anthology that I mentioned above.

By Ismée Williams,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked This Train Is Being Held as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Family and class differences threaten the love of two teens in this contemporary YA romance

When private school student Isabelle Warren first meets Dominican-American Alex Rosario on the 1 train, she remembers his green eyes and gentlemanly behavior. He remembers her long ballet dancer's legs and untroubled happiness, something he feels belongs to all rich kids. As the two grow closer in and out of the subway, Isabelle learns of Alex's father, who is hell-bent on Alex being a contender for the major leagues despite Alex's desire to go to college and become a poet. Alex learns about Isabelle's Havana-born…


Book cover of The Slope Rules

Kristin Bartley Lenz Why did I love this book?

Mountain towns, skiing, snowboarding, and sweet romance – this story is the perfect winter entertainment. A twist of fate lands Cally and Blake in the same high school after their vacation romance ends, but why is he acting like he wants nothing to do with her? The story complications grow as Cally navigates old and new friendships and lands a spot on the ski team, and then there’s the mystery of what Blake is hiding. This is book one of three in The Rules series and more adventures await, on and off the ski slopes. 

By Melanie Hooyenga,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Fifteen-year old Cally accepted her fate as one of the guys, so when she meets Blake, a hot snowboarder who sees her for more than her aerials on the slopes, she falls fast and hard. But their romance can only last as long as vacation.

Or so she thinks.

A twist of fate—well, her Dad opening another brewery in a new town—lands her in Blake’s school, but the charismatic boy she fell for wants nothing to do with her, and worse, the Snow Bunnies, the popular clique, claim her as their newest recruit.

Cally must learn to be true to…


Book cover of All American Boys

Kristin Bartley Lenz Why did I love this book?

This novel is extra special because it’s written by two author friends, one Black, one white, and shows the complexity of racial inequality and police violence firsthand with basketball as the backdrop. This moving story encourages discussion and will make you reflect. It’s also a great introduction to the two authors’ work, and especially interesting to see how Jason Reynolds has since grown into his role as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. 

By Jason Reynolds, Brendan Kiely,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked All American Boys as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 13, 14, 15, and 16.

What is this book about?

A bag of chips. That's all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad's pleadings that he's stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad's every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the pavement?

There were witnesses: Quinn - a varsity basketball player and Rashad's classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan - and a video camera.…


You might also like...

The Finest Lies

By David J. Naiman,

Book cover of The Finest Lies

David J. Naiman Author Of The Finest Lies

New book alert!

Who am I?

Anyone with siblings knows the deal. Your sibling becomes your first best friend and closest confidant but also your first competitor and fiercest critic. Navigating that relationship as a teen is fraught with peril. If done poorly, it can leave deep scars. If successful, it can teach you the foundations of how to build healthy relationships for the rest of your life. This theme has everything a writer needs to craft an emotional narrative, and these books do it best.

David's book list on sibling rivalry that will inspire you to reconnect

What is my book about?

A mysterious stranger traps teen siblings in a precarious game where each must overcome their embittered past for the other to survive.

This suspenseful, yet winsome novel explores the power of family and forgiveness. But take heed. The truth can cut like shards of glass, especially for those who’d rather avoid it. Sometimes, only the finest lies will do.

The Finest Lies

By David J. Naiman,

What is this book about?

High schooler Nicole Hallett has just about had it with her brother Jay, so when a mysterious man appears with an offer to replace him with a better one, she doesn’t hesitate. Nicole has always been impulsive, but this time, she finds herself in predicament far worse than anything she’s experienced. Just like that, an average snow day—usually filled with hot cocoa and snowball fights—is commandeered by the stranger, who forces the siblings into a dangerous game.

Confronted by past reflections, tested by present complications, and threatened by future possibilities, Nicole has until the end of the day to disentangle…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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