With the Olympics underway, sports is everywhere. It fascinates me to hear the stories of the athletes, to learn about their training regimes, to see the team spirit and and to watch them achieve and, sometimes, to fail.
It made me think about the YA books I have read. How many of them are based around sports or have sports as part of their storyline? I discovered that there weren’t that many – so maybe I’m reading the wrong books or maybe sports and YA aren’t a popular mix.
Here are the books I came up with:
RUGBY: Winger and Stand Off by Andrew Smith
Winger: Ryan Dean West is a 14-year-old boy who is bright enough to be in class with teenagers two years older than him. He is also a rugby player – he plays wing on the school team with the older boys. That is the good news – the bad news is that Ryan Dean’s school is for problem children and his behaviour has resulted in him being placed in a dorm with the worst behaved boys. His parents are distant and absent. His best friend, Annie, can’t imagine loving him because he is two years younger than she is. Ryan Dean needs to prove himself but it’s not easy when you’re smaller than your peers, younger than your peers, you’ve never drunk before and you can’t stop thinking about girls. Ryan Dean finds a calming friend in Joey, the rugby captain who is also an outsider because he is gay. With Joey’s support, Ryan Dean manges to get things on track and things begin to look so much better.
Stand Off: The book follows the ongoing adventures of Ryan Dean West. Stand Off covers his final year at school before he leaves for college. By his senior year, Ryan Dean has matured both physically and mentally but he still has a lot of emotional baggage to deal with. The events of the previous year at school hang over him and he struggles to cope. He doesn’t always go about things the right way but his heart is in the right place. He is also a funny and amusing story-teller, peppering his story with his often whacky thoughts and his beautifully drawn cartoons.
It is refreshing to find a book for teenagers that centres around the game of rugby (although, interestingly, in the States). Rugby players will find a lot a pleasure in the description of the game and of the bond between rugby players and their rules of behaviour, both on and off the pitch. However, the book is not just about rugby; it is about proving yourself, about being accepted, making the right choices and being true to yourself and to your friends. The story is funny at times but also achingly sad. It is both emotional and thought-provoking – Ryan Dean does not always make the right choices, he doesn’t always treat his friends well and acceptance does not come easily. A well written book, peppered with swearing, Ryan Dean’s musings about women and his amusing and excellent drawings.
SAILING: Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
A classic set in the Lake District which follows the adventures of four siblings one summer as they sail, make friends, set up camps and have adventures. The book is set in 1929 and was published on 1930 and readers may find the writing and the behaviour of the main characters a little old-fashioned. It is a gentle and fun read peppered with plenty of technical information about sailing.
RUNNING: The Fastest Boy in the World by Elizabeth Laird
Solomon’s grandfather decides that it is time for Solomon to accompany him on a journey from their small village to Addis Ababa. It takes a long and exhausting day to walk there and, once in the city, the noise and bustle are overwhelming. The visit itself becomes a journey as Solomon learns about a whole new side to his grandfather, makes a new friend and gets to watch the famous Ethiopian Olympic runners parade in glory through the streets. However, excitement turns to panic as Solomon’s grandfather falls ill and Solomon has to make the journey back to his village on his own.
A gentle, straightforward and fairly short story through which readers can learn some of the fascinating history of Ethiopia and gain an insight into the life of this country and its people. The country’s fame for turning out famous long distance runners is also a theme in the book. Elizabeth Laird shares her love for this exotic country through her writing. If you read this book, you will find it hard not to want to know more about Ethiopia, its history, its customs and its people.
CLIMBING: Peak by Roland Smith
Peak is a boy who was born to climb but the only things to climb in Manhattan are skyscrapers. After getting caught he has a choice – juvenile detention or live with his long-lost dad in Thailand. He chooses his dad but finds that his dad has his own agenda and soon they are at Base Camp Mount Everest.
The book is written in Peak’s open, friendly and honest voice. If you are interested in climbing then the book provides plenty of information about how mountains like Everest are climbed. But it also an adventure book and a coming of age book as Peak has to make some tough decisions about what really matters in life. Enjoyable, though provoking and interesting.
CLIMBING: The Everest Files and North Face by Matt Dickinson
The Everest Files: Ryan is on a gap year, working for a charity that helps deliver medicines to remote villages in Nepal. In delivering the medicines, he meets a Nepalese girl who asks him to help her find a Sherpa called Kami who disappeared during an expedition to Everest. Intrigued by the story, the girl and by Nepal itself, Ryan decides to help. He sets out on a journey and discovers a tale of love, bravery, greed and sadness.
North Face: Ryan is in Tibet to trek near Mount Everest but his plans are soon in tatters as an earthquake hits the area and his companion is injured. With everything in chaos, Ryan makes friends with a young Tibetan girl, Tashi. She is worried about her brother who was up on the mountain at the time of the earthquake. Tashi explains to Ryan that her nomadic family saw their way of life ruined when the Chinese authorities started forcing her people off the land and into towns and cities. Her family decided to try to establish a new life working with climbers at Mount Everest but danger has followed them. Tashi is desperate to find her brother and to escape the clutches of the Chinese army and Ryan wants to help her. Their decision leads them on an adventure as they battle both the elements and the authorities.
Throughout the books the majesty of Everest and the beauty of the mountains and of Nepal dominate. The author’s description of everyday life in Nepal, of the people, their beliefs and customs is fascinating. Equally the description of climbing on Everest, the skill, the dangers, the contrast between the behaviour of the Westerners and the Sherpas is both informative and interesting and raises many questions about the way climbing in the region is managed.
In North face, the book looks at how Tibet has changed as China has taken more control over the area and the people. Tashi recounts the story of her family in a simple way so that the action taken by the Chinese government and its impact on the Tibetan people is easy to understand. The story is both fascinating and heartbreaking. It provides a window into the amazing world of climbing, Mount Everest and Tibet.
SWIMMING: The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan
Kasienka and her mother leave Poland to search for her father in Coventry. They end up living in a grotty bedsit and Kasienka has to deal with a new country, a new school, bullies and her mother’s determination to find Kasienka’s father, even though it seems obvious that he doesn’t want to be found. It’s a heavy weight to carry and Kasienka is able to find release from her problems in her swimming.
This book is easy to read. It is written in verse, with sparse language and is relatively short. Don’t be put off by the use of verse – the language is straightforward and it is written in an engaging tone. The plot is also simple – coping in a new country, dealing with bullies, finding the strength to overcome life’s difficulties and growing up – and is very moving and poignant. The book gives an insight into what life is like for people arriving in a foreign country with the hope of making a new life for themselves. However it is the depiction of teen girl bullying, and the negative effect that small acts of unkindness can have on people, that is truly fantastic.