The best YA books featuring badass sporty girls

Who am I?

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.

The books I picked & why

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By Yamile Saied Méndez,

Book cover of Furia

Why 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. 

In the Same Boat

By Holly Green,

Book cover of In the Same Boat

Why 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. 

Break the Fall

By Jennifer Iacopelli,

Book cover of Break the Fall

Why 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. 

The Knockout

By Sajni Patel,

Book cover of The Knockout

Why 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. 

Some Girls Do

By Jennifer Dugan,

Book cover of Some Girls Do

Why 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. 

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