It's only natural for sports to be present in young adult literature when sports are such a big part of so many teens' lives.
If you examine some of the "big" YA faves, you'll find sports in some shape or form. Hunger Games, of course, has the game of survival front and center. There is definitely an element of sport behind the game, no matter how grotesque it is. Harry Potter illustrates a wonderfully conceived fantasy sport. And, heck, even Twilight features a friendly game of baseball.
I recently read Catching Jordan, by Miranda Kenneally, where the female main character, Jordan, is the star quarterback and captain of the high school football team. She's all about getting an athletic scholarship to a big name university, but that is threatened when a new quarterback moves to town. Not only is this quarterback a hottie, he also makes her feel like she's never felt before. Can she keep her head on straight and stay QB? Will she let someone get close to her? Conflict!
The author uses the sport as a setting, plot inertia, if you will, and, most importantly, character development. Ms. Kenneally didn't bog down the story with technicalities about how the game of football is played. She doesn't make the reader feel stupid by explaining the game itself. She either expects you to know the gist of the game and/or it doesn't really matter if you know what a Fleeflicker play is. She uses the actions and dialogue of the main and supporting characters during the sport and their reactions to the sport as a way to deepen our understanding of those characters.
Ms. Kenneally's Stealing Parker, showcasing a high school girl softball player, will be released next month. I'm not a baseball fan, but after seeing how well she defined her characters in Catching Jordan using the sport as the facilitator, I will be putting Stealing Parker on my TBR list. So, even if you're not a sports fan, you may want to give novels featuring sports a chance.
Whether we're talking about Catching Jordan, Harry Potter, or an entirely different novel/genre, a lot can be learned about a character through how they act and react in a sporting event. Are they serious, demanding, erratic, playful? Are they mindful of others, greedy, self-absorbed? Are they empathetic with other players? How much effort do they put into the game? Do they listen to the coach? Do they rely on pure talent?
In the last several months I've had the opportunity to beta read a couple manuscripts with characters involved in sports. One of them features a tennis player, the other a surfer. I know a little about tennis since my husband and son play. The manuscript included just enough tennis jargon for me to know what was going on and get a better sense of who the main character really was as a person. Again, the sport wasn't a turn off because I wasn't given a lesson on how the game works. The other manuscript - surfing? I know absolutely nothing. But guess what? It didn't matter. Information was given in a way that enlightened me, but yet I wasn't bored out of my mind. The sport most definitely helped define that main character. The sports worked in both manuscripts. Rather than being distracting, the sports added to the story.
If you don't usually read novels involving sports because you're not a sports fan, I suggest easing yourself into it by finding a novel with sports in your favorite genre and go from there. Sports are included in all genres!
What say you? What YA novels involving sports do you recommend? Do you think a sport can effectively develop characters? Will you read novels with sports as a component even if you aren't a sports fan?
* Note: Yes, I enjoy some sports, but I'm not a hard-core athlete. Proof that you don't have to be a jock to like/appreciate sports in novels. : )