The best YA books featuring badass sporty girls

Why am I passionate about this?

I adore books about sporty badass girls. Yet, when I first began to write Dangerous Play, there were few young-adult novels featuring fierce sporty girls. Of those, there were fewer which portrayed the powerful friendships that can emerge on girls’ sports teams. I want to read and write about girls who are defined by more than their love interests, who are dogged in the pursuit of their goals. In a world that so often judges girls by how their bodies look, sports offers an arena in which girls can view and value their bodies in an alternative way. And who doesn’t love to cheer for someone who beats the odds? 


I wrote...

Dangerous Play

By Emma Kress,

Book cover of Dangerous Play

What is my book about?

Zoe Alamandar has one goal: win the State Field Hockey Championships and earn a scholarship that will get her the hell out of Central New York. She and her co-captain Ava Cervantes have assembled a fierce team of dedicated girls who will work hard and play by the rules.

But after Zoe is sexually assaulted at a party, she finds a new goal: make sure no girl feels unsafe again. Zoe and her teammates decide to stop playing by the rules and take justice into their own hands. Soon, their suburban town has a team of superheroes meting out punishments, but one night of vigilantism may cost Zoe her team, the championship, her scholarship, and her future.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Furia

Emma Kress Why did I love this book?

I adored this book. After I turned the final page, I sat in silence, sinking into all the feels. Set in Argentina, Furia is the story of Camila, a fierce soccer—or fútbol—player who is one of the best in her sport. However, she’s forced to keep her love of fútbol a secret because she’s living under the strict supervision of her father, who doesn’t believe girls should play sports. That story alone would be enough to make Furia one of my all-time favorite books, but it’s also got an incredible swoony love story. You don’t want to miss this one. 

By Yamile Saied Méndez,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In Rosario, Argentina, Camila Hassan lives a double life.

At home, she is a careful daughter, living within her mother's narrow expectations, in her rising-soccer-star brother's shadow, and under the abusive rule of her short-tempered father.

On the field, she is La Furia, a powerhouse of skill and talent. When her team qualifies for the South American tournament, Camila gets the chance to see just how far those talents can take her. In her wildest dreams, she'd get an athletic scholarship to a North American university.

But the path ahead isn't easy. Her parents don't know about her passion. They…


Book cover of In the Same Boat

Emma Kress Why did I love this book?

This was one of my favorite books of 2021. In The Same Boat tells the story of Sadie, a fierce canoer, who must finish the Texas River Odyssey, a 260-mile canoe race. Members of her family have raced for years—and always finished. But last year, Sadie wrecked her canoe and couldn’t finish. As a result, her dad’s barely speaking to her. So, this time, she must finish. She’s set to race with her brother but at the last minute, she’s forced to canoe with her ex-best-friend-turned-worst-enemy who inconveniently has become hot. It’s a gripping read with a swoony romance and a whole lot of family heart. Green does the very hard thing of writing a feminist sporty romance where the love interest doesn’t define her athleticism. 

By Holly Green,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In the Same Boat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

In the Same Boat is the hugely entertaining blend of romance and thrilling adventure that you never knew you needed.

It's the eve of the Texas River Odyssey, and Sadie Scofield is finally ready for the 265-mile canoe race. It's three days of grueling, nonstop paddling, where every turn of the river reveals new challenges -- downed trees, poisonous snakes, alligators -- but the dangers are all worth it. Reaching the finish line is the only way for Sadie to redeem herself for last year, when one small mistake spiraled into disaster.

Sadie has spent a year training, and she's…


Book cover of Break the Fall

Emma Kress Why did I love this book?

I inhaled Break the Fall, set in the world of elite gymnastics. After an injury, Audrey is not only ready to return to gymnastics but does the impossible thing of qualifying for the Olympics. Finally, she’s on the cusp of achieving all that she’s dreamed of and trained for all these years. Everything unravels, however, when their coach is accused of sexual assault. Iacopelli does a gorgeous job capturing all of the highs and lows of this story, as well as the intensity of elite athletics. While we don’t typically think of gymnastics as a team sport, I was especially appreciative of the way Iacopelli showed the girls standing up for each other as a team, which is rare in YA girls’ sports books. 

By Jennifer Iacopelli,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A fiercely told survivorship novel about one girl's determination to push her body to win gold at the Olympics, and the power of uniting as women to speak out.

The only thing seventeen-year-old Audrey Lee dreams about is swinging her way to Olympic glory. Nothing is going to stop her, not even the agony in her back. Every spasm and ache will be worth it once she has that gold medal around her neck.

But none of her training prepares her for her coach being led away in handcuffs, accused by a fellow gymnast of the unthinkable. No one knows…


Book cover of The Knockout

Emma Kress Why did I love this book?

The Knockout is about Kareena Thakkar, a Muay Thai fighter who straddles multiple worlds. In her Indian community, she struggles with not feeling “Indian enough,” and her athletic goals only accentuate that outsider status. At school, nobody knows she’s a serious athlete and because she’s unable to be her true self, she doesn’t feel as though she has a place. Finally, she’s a fierce athlete, carving a name for herself and a path to the US Muay Thai Open, which might lead directly to the first-ever Olympic team. As if straddling three separate worlds wasn’t complicated enough, she falls for a guy who challenges her in all the ways. 

By Sajni Patel,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"A rising star in Muay Thai figures out what (and who) is worth fighting for in this #ownvoices YA debut full of heart.

If seventeen-year-old Kareena Thakkar is going to alienate herself from the entire Indian community, she might as well do it gloriously. She's landed the chance of a lifetime, an invitation to the US Muay Thai Open, which could lead to a spot on the first-ever Olympic team. If only her sport wasn't seen as something too rough for girls, something she's afraid to share with anyone outside of her family. Despite pleasing her parents, exceling at school,…


Book cover of Some Girls Do

Emma Kress Why did I love this book?

You may have noticed a trend here—every book I’ve recommended has been a pandemic release. It was one of the hardest recorded times for authors to release books so I wanted to highlight some of my favorites that you might have missed. But all of Jennifer Dugan’s books are worth reading. She writes about messy girls and queer joy in her signature laugh-out-loud, tell-it-like-it-is prose. In Some Girls Do, an elite track star is forced out of her Catholic high school simply because she’s queer. She’s ready to be out and proud, but she falls for a closeted bisexual beauty pageant queen. This is a vibrant, compulsively readable swoony love story you’re sure to inhale. 

By Jennifer Dugan,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Some Girls Do as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this YA contemporary queer romance from the author of Hot Dog Girl, an openly gay track star falls for a closeted, bisexual teen beauty queen with a penchant for fixing up old cars. Now available in paperback!

Morgan, an elite track athlete, is forced to transfer high schools late in her senior year after it turns out being queer is against her private Catholic school's code of conduct. There, she meets Ruby, who has two hobbies: tinkering with her baby blue 1970 Ford Torino and competing in local beauty pageants, the latter to live out the dreams of her…


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Ferry to Cooperation Island

By Carol Newman Cronin,

Book cover of Ferry to Cooperation Island

Carol Newman Cronin Author Of Ferry to Cooperation Island

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Sailor Olympian Editor New Englander Rum drinker

Carol's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

James Malloy is a ferry captain--or used to be, until he was unceremoniously fired and replaced by a "girl" named Courtney Farris. Now, instead of piloting Brenton Island’s daily lifeline to the glitzy docks of Newport, Rhode Island, James spends his days beached, bitter, and bored.

When he discovers a plan for a private golf course on wilderness sacred to his dying best friend, James is determined to stop such "improvements." But despite Brenton's nickname as "Cooperation Island," he's used to working solo. To keep historic trees and ocean shoreline open to all, he'll have to learn to cooperate with other islanders--including Captain Courtney, who might just morph from irritant to irresistible once James learns a secret that's been kept from him for years.

Ferry to Cooperation Island

By Carol Newman Cronin,

What is this book about?

Loner James Malloy is a ferry captain-or used to be, until he was unceremoniously fired and replaced by a girl named Courtney Farris. Now, instead of piloting Brenton Island's daily lifeline to the glitzy docks of Newport, Rhode Island, James spends his days beached, bitter, and bored.

When he discovers a private golf course staked out across wilderness sacred to his dying best friend, a Narragansett Indian, James is determined to stop such "improvements." But despite Brenton's nickname as "Cooperation Island," he's used to working solo. To keep rocky bluffs, historic trees, and ocean shoreline open to all, he'll have…


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