Share Missing the Thrill of International Games? Here Are 10 Gripping Sports Stories to Root For

Missing the Thrill of International Games? Here Are 10 Gripping Sports Stories to Root For

Alice Martin is a PhD candidate in English Literature at Rutgers University, where she obsesses over nineteenth-century women writers, the history of the publishing industry, and writing practices. She’s also a regular contributor to Shelf Awareness and a freelance writer and editor. Her writing has appeared in The Carolina Quarterly, Appalachian Heritage, and Sixfold among other publications. You can find her talking about books, food, and basketball (in that order) on Twitter @AliceJeanMartin.

More than four months into the global pandemic, we are all missing sports. While some leagues are implementing plans to gear back up, a complete return to the immersive reality of sports is going to take some time. But don’t worry! We have ten adrenaline-pumping, heart-racing, cheer-worthy books, all set in the competitive world of athletics, to keep you busy. These books are a testament not only to the raw drive it takes to compete but also the undeniable ability of sports, like books, to bring people together. From true or based-on-true stories of historic events and personal trials to imaginative but inspiring tales of self-reinvention and the power of determination, these books have enough force to keep even the most tired among us going.  


Head Over Heels
by Hannah Orenstein

In this giddy rom-com, gymnastics all-star Avery Abrams is sent into a tailspin after a loss ruins her career. While Avery goes through a breakup, her gymnastics bestie goes on to marry their abusive coach. Alone and looking for direction, Avery agrees to help new coach Ryan train a talented gymnastics hopeful. But just as she and Ryan are getting closer, an industry scandal that shocks them both will threaten Avery’s new stability.  

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Head Over Heels
Hannah Orenstein

Named a best beach/summer read by O, The Oprah Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Parade, PopSugar, Marie Claire, Bustle, and more!

From the author of the Love at First Like and Playing with Matches, an electrifying rom-com set in the high stakes world of competitive gymnastics, full of Hannah Orenstein’s signature “charm, whimsy, and giddy romantic tension” (BuzzFeed).

The past seven years have been hard on Avery Abrams: After training her entire life to make the Olympic gymnastics team, a disastrous performance ended her athletic career for good. Her best friend and teammate, Jasmine, went on to become an Olympic champion, then committed the ultimate betrayal by marrying their emotionally abusive coach, Dimitri.

Now, reeling from a breakup with her football star boyfriend, Avery returns to her Massachusetts hometown, where new coach Ryan asks her to help him train a promising young gymnast with Olympic aspirations. Despite her misgivings and worries about the memories it will evoke, Avery agrees. Back in the gym, she’s surprised to find sparks flying with Ryan. But when a shocking scandal in the gymnastics world breaks, it has shattering effects not only for the sport but also for Avery and her old friend Jasmine.

Perfect for fans of Emily Giffin and Jasmine Guillory, Head Over Heels proves that no one “writes about modern relationships with more humor or insight than Hannah Orenstein” (Dana Schwartz, author of Choose Your Own Disaster).

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Britt-Marie Was Here
by Fredrik Backman

From the best-selling author of A MAN CALLED OVE (2012) comes another heartwarming tale of second impressions. Britt-Marie may be finicky and awkward, but she won’t stand for her husband’s infidelity. Newly alone in the dismal small town of Borg, Britt-Marie reluctantly takes on the task of leading the town’s infamously terrible children’s soccer team to victory. With tenderness and insight, BRITT-MARIE WAS HERE shows how even the quirkiest of people can find their place alongside others. 

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Britt-Marie Was Here
Fredrik Backman

The New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry “returns with this heartwarming story about a woman rediscovering herself after a personal crisis…fans of Backman will find another winner in these pages” (Publishers Weekly).

Britt-Marie can’t stand mess. A disorganized cutlery drawer ranks high on her list of unforgivable sins. She is not one to judge others—no matter how ill-mannered, unkempt, or morally suspect they might be. It’s just that sometimes people interpret her helpful suggestions as criticisms, which is certainly not her intention.

But hidden inside the socially awkward, fussy busybody is a woman who has more imagination, bigger dreams, and a warmer heart that anyone around her realizes.

When Britt-Marie walks out on her cheating husband and has to fend for herself in the miserable backwater town of Borg—of which the kindest thing one can say is that it has a road going through it—she finds work as the caretaker of a soon-to-be demolished recreation center. The fastidious Britt-Marie soon finds herself being drawn into the daily doings of her fellow citizens, an odd assortment of miscreants, drunkards, layabouts. Most alarming of all, she’s given the impossible task of leading the supremely untalented children’s soccer team to victory. In this small town of misfits, can Britt-Marie find a place where she truly belongs?

Funny and moving, sweet and inspiring, Britt-Marie Was Here celebrates the importance of community and connection in a world that can feel isolating.

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Godspeed
by Casey Legler

Casey Legler is one of the fastest swimmers in the world, setting world records at sixteen. An alcoholic and drug-addict who is estranged from her family, Casey throws herself into the brutal, competitive world of sports, like the world of drugs, to suffocate the loneliness inside herself. After a devastating loss and years of brutal training, Casey grasps onto the smallest bit of hope in a last-ditch effort to pull herself out of the tide that keeps sweeping her back. 

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Godspeed
Casey Legler

“A memoir for our times.” —Michael Stipe

“A coming-of-age drama captured through poetic prose and convincing honesty.” —Kirkus Reviews

“I swim for every chance to get wasted—after every meet, every weekend, every travel trip. This is what I look forward to and what I tell no one: the burn of it down my throat, to my soul curled up in my lungs, the sharpest pain all over it—it seizes and stretches, becoming alive again, and is the only thing that makes sense.”

At fifteen, Casey Legler is already one of the fastest swimmers in the world. She is also an alcoholic, isolated from her family, and incapable of forming lasting connections with those around her.

Driven to compete at the highest levels, sent far away from home to train with the best coaches and teams, she finds herself increasingly alone and alienated, living a life of cheap hotels and chlorine-worn skin, anonymous sexual encounters and escalating drug use. Even at what should be a moment of triumph—competing at age sixteen in the 1996 Olympics—she is an outsider looking in, procuring drugs for Olympians she hardly knows, and losing her race after setting a new world record in the qualifying heats.

After submitting to years of numbing training in France and the United States, Casey can see no way out of the sinister loneliness that has swelled and festered inside her. Yet wondrously, when it is almost too late, she discovers a small light within herself, and senses a point of calm within the whirlwind of her life.

In searing, evocative, visceral prose, Casey gives language to loneliness in this startling story of survival, defiance, and of the embers that still burn when everything else in us goes dark.

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Gold
by Chris Cleave

A world-class athlete, Kate Meadows has always dreamed of being the best cyclist in the world. But now, during what will likely be her last chance to compete, her eight-year-old daughter is facing a life-and-death battle with leukemia. Can Kate, who has already sacrificed almost everything for her family, be the mother her daughter needs without giving up on her dreams? Gold is a heartbreaking, emotionally sensitive novel fueled by a nail-biting pace.  

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Gold
Chris Cleave

The latest novel from Chris Cleave—the award-winning and international #1 bestselling author of Little Bee—is “a heartstring-tugger with an adrenaline-fueled plot” (People) that asks: how much are we willing to sacrifice for the people we love?

IT’S THE ULTIMATE TEST OF A MOTHER’S LOVE . . .

IF your dreams pull you in one direction and your heart in another, which should you follow? This is the question that haunts Kate Meadows, a world champion athlete whose eight-year-old daughter Sophie is battling a recurrence of childhood leukemia just as Kate is about to compete for her last chance at an Olympic gold medal. For years, Kate has sacrificed everything for her family and watched her best friend and closest rival, Zoe Castle, conquer the world stage. Kate has never won gold and will have to go through Zoe—who has everything to lose—to get it. Now her child is facing a life-threatening illness, and the stakes are higher than ever. How can she do what is right for her daughter without abandoning all of her dreams?

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The Sweetheart
by Angelina Mirabella

In 1950s Philadelphia, waitress Leonie feels her life has met a dead end. Bracingly determined and eager for more from life, Leonie runs away to Florida, where she begins to train at Joe Pospisil’s School for Lady Grappling. As she works her way up the ranks to become the world’s most famous female wrestler, the Sweetheart, her relationships will all be tested in her quest to be the greatest of all time. 

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The Sweetheart
Angelina Mirabella

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MENTIONED IN:

Missing the Thrill of International Games? Here Are 10 Gripping Sports Stories to Root For

By Alice Martin | July 23, 2020

12 Sports Novels for Readers Who Hate Sports

By Taylor Noel | February 2, 2018

A Knockout Story of an Unlikely Heroine

By Anthony Parisi | May 16, 2016

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Trophy Son
by Douglas Brunt

A relentless and topical novel from New York Times bestselling author Douglas Brunt, TROPHY SON delves into the world of sport’s personal life. Anton has been raised by his intense, obsessive father with one goal in mind: to be the best tennis player in the world. But just as the goal is within reach, the sacrifices Anton has made and the loneliness he has suffered to please his father all threaten to collapse in on him.  

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Trophy Son
Douglas Brunt

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Once A Runner
by John L. Parker Jr.

An inspiring sports classic, ONCE A RUNNER tells the story of Quenton Cassidy, a talented runner who gives up everything he knows for his passion. After making the university track team, Cassidy believes his goal of running a four-minute mile is within grasp. But when he is suspended for protesting the Vietnam War, he makes the shocking decision to give up his scholarship for a monastic training regimen, tailored to help him beat the world’s most famous miler.  

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Once A Runner
John L. Parker Jr.

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Garden of Beasts
by Jeffery Deaver

In this cat-and-mouse historical thriller, Paul Schumann is a morally bound mobster who, when captured by the authorities, turns government hitman as an alternative to death row. His first and only assignment is to travel to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, disguised as a journalist, and kill Reinhard Ernst, one of Hitler’s right-hand men. With ruthless pacing and heart-pounding action, GARDEN OF BEASTS delivers a shocking conclusion in its final pages. 

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Garden of Beasts
Jeffery Deaver

In the most ingenious and provocative thriller yet from the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Jeffery Deaver, a conscience-plagued mobster turned government hitman struggles to find his moral compass amid rampant treachery and betrayal in 1936 Berlin.

Paul Schumann, a German American living in New York City in 1936, is a mobster hitman known as much for his brilliant tactics as for taking only "righteous" assignments. But then Paul gets caught. And the arresting officer offers him a stark choice: prison or covert government service. Paul is asked to pose as a journalist covering the summer Olympics taking place in Berlin. He's to hunt down and kill Reinhard Ernst -- the ruthless architect of Hitler's clandestine rearmament. If successful, Paul will be pardoned and given the financial means to go legit; if he refuses the job, his fate will be Sing Sing and the electric chair.

Paul travels to Germany, takes a room in a boardinghouse near the Tiergarten -- the huge park in central Berlin but also, literally, the "Garden of Beasts" -- and begins his hunt. In classic Deaver fashion, the next forty-eight hours are a feverish cat-and-mouse chase, as Paul stalks Ernst through Berlin while a dogged Berlin police officer and the entire Third Reich apparatus search frantically for the American.

Garden of Beasts is packed with fascinating period detail and features a cast of perfectly realized locals, Olympic athletes and senior Nazi officials -- some real, some fictional. With hairpin plot twists, the reigning "master of ticking-bomb suspense" (People) plumbs the nerve-jangling paranoia of prewar Berlin and steers the story to a breathtaking and wholly unpredictable ending.

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Ghost
by Jason Reynolds

The first book in an explosive new young adult series, GHOST introduces readers to the four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team, all of whom are determined to make it to the Junior Olympics. Ghost has insane natural talent, but his desire to run is tied tightly to memories of his abusive father. Just as Ghost’s future as a runner seems threatened by his past, he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic runner determined to lead him to greatness. 

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Ghost
Jason Reynolds

A National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature.
Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read.

Ghost wants to be the fastest sprinter on his elite middle school track team, but his past is slowing him down in this first electrifying novel of a brand-new series from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award–winning author Jason Reynolds.

Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves.

Running. That’s all Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all started with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who sees something in Ghost: crazy natural talent. If Ghost can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed, or will his past finally catch up to him?

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Don't Tell Me You're Afriad
by Giuseppe Catozzella

Based on a harrowing true story, DON’T TELL ME YOU’RE AFRAID follows eight-year-old Samia from the war-torn backyards of Somalia, across Africa and the Mediterranean, to world-class track fields. Samia has always dreamt of representing Somalia in the Olympics, and her self-directed, arduous training has made her a world-class runner. But as war ravages her home country, she must embark alone on a refuge journey across continents in hopes of one day reaching her goal.  

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Don't Tell Me You're Afriad
Giuseppe Catozzella

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Photo Credit: HiddenCatch/iStock

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