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

Kristin Bartley Lenz Author Of The Art of Holding on and Letting Go
By Kristin Bartley Lenz

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. 

The books I picked & why

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Rhyme & Rhythm: Poems for Student Athletes

By Sarah J. Donovan,

Book cover of Rhyme & Rhythm: Poems for Student Athletes

Why 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.


See No Color

By Shannon Gibney,

Book cover of See No Color

Why 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.


This Train Is Being Held

By Ismée Williams,

Book cover of This Train Is Being Held

Why 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.


The Slope Rules

By Melanie Hooyenga,

Book cover of The Slope Rules

Why 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. 


All American Boys

By Jason Reynolds, Brendan Kiely,

Book cover of All American Boys

Why 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. 


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