Goal! – Sports in YA Lit.

Let me be frank. I am not a sporty person. Yes, I love the Olympics. Yes, I watched horse racing as an eighth-grader, even reruns. Yes, I did train for a triathlon once. But would I ever have anticipated reading and enjoying a novel with a sports theme so strong it constitutes its own character? In two letters, no.

But I love Chris Crutcher. And every one of his books — the ones I’ve read at this point — are sports books.

I first heard about Mr. Crutcher at the SCBWI NYC Winter 2012 Conference. He was a key note speaker, and man did he ever rock. He talked about the importance of using humor in order to write about grief. The audience was laughing and crying, almost simultaneously, as he pulled us down to the darkest depths of an emotional experience, only to lift us up through some unexpected, humorous twist. I’ve since read a good handful of his books, and each has provided me with the same wondrous blend of dark and light. Crutcher is a master, that’s for sure.

And he loves sports. Whether it’s swimming, cross-country, football, or basketball, Crutcher’s ability to develop sports into a character of its own is pretty remarkable, and that’s coming from someone who is not a sporty person. At times, his blow by blow narration of sporting events can be overwhelming for non-sporty people. Truthfully, I have to tune some of it out. That’s because I have no idea about layups and sweeps and off-sides. Even so, Crutcher uses sports to showcase his characters and their personalities, and even a non-sporty like me can understand the positive influence that sports can have on a person, in this case a teenager.

My favorite book so far was Stotan! This book is about four boys — the only members of their high school swim team. Being a swimmer, or should I say someone who enjoys a lap swim now and then, I could relate to this one a bit more. The boys enlist in a training exercise put on by their coach, and it’s a b&#$^ of an exercise. Somehow, even though I’ve never swum for four hours straight, doing sprints and pyramids and crab-crawls on the rough poolside, I understood how the boys were going to be stronger because of this challenge, more able to withstand the grief that Crutcher puts them through.

If you like sports and you also like YA novels, I highly recommend Crutcher’s books. If you like see protagonists face the gritty grief of real life and come out of the water still breathing, then read his books.

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