Somehow, in my years reviewing books for School Library Journal, I've become one of the go-to reviewers for middle grade and young adult sports fiction. Which is kind of funny, because I was an uncoordinated kid who hated PE, and as an adult, am definitely not an armchair quarterback (or a watcher of any sports, really). But there are some wonderful novels being published today that feature main characters who are involved in different sports, and they make for some great reading. Recently, I've come across two excellent books. You'll have to wait for a review of the first one, The Pitcher, since that's one of my SLJ books and the review won't be out for a couple of months.
The other one, Boy21, was one of YALSA's top ten Best Fiction for Young Adults picks for 2013, with good reason. Written by Matthew Quick, the same guy who gave us The Silver Linings Playbook, it's a story of friendship between a white kid and black kid in a racially divided town. A friendship between two damaged kids who turn to basketball and outer space for healing. Here's my Goodreads review:
It's Finley's senior year, and basketball has been his life since he was little... it was his escape after his mother's death. Growing up in a poor, racially divided town, he knows that it is his ticket out. When his coach asks him to befriend a student who is transferring in, Finley doesn't hesitate. Even when his coach tells him that this new student, Russ, is a nationally ranked basketball player who is having trouble coping since the death of his parents, Finley doesn't see Russ as a threat. Russ isn't interested in basketball anymore. He calls himself Boy21, and his conversations all focus around outer space, and the fact that his parents will be picking him up from Earth within the next several weeks. Coach is determined that Finley help Russ get back into basketball... he believes that playing again will help Russ in his grieving process. Finley wants to do the right thing, but he can't confide the facts of Russ's background to his girlfriend or anyone else. And if Russ is as good as Coach says, Finley could be talking himself out of his starting position on the team. In this warmly-written, multilayered story, Finley is an engaging protagonist. And the friendship that he offers Russ comes back to him when he needs it most.