Over the weekend, I finished reading Football Genius by Tim Green. Admittedly, I am not a huge football fan; I'll watch the Super Bowl if a friend is throwing a good party, and I do attend high school games . . . but mostly to watch the marching band. So, it was with reluctance - and a sense of professional obligation - that I picked up the novel. The book is one of fifteen nominated for Wyoming's Soaring Eagle youth book award this year, and I do try to read every nominee.
That much being said, the novel ended up being a pleasant Sunday-afternoon read. The storyline moved along nicely, and I was able to skim through the more tedious (for me) descriptions of the football plays to get back to the actual plot. The characters were predictable, for a YA novel, but the underlying tension -- a losing football team, a family drama, and even two budding romances -- provided a pleasant diversion. For the right age group, there is even the possiblity of several lessons about truth, loyalty, and self-knowledge. I'd certainly try it for a younger reader -- say 5th to 7th grade -- who likes sports. Be aware that the main characters are all in the 6th grade, so you won't have as much luck getting older teens to read it. In the library, we notice that our teen patrons will read about characters older than them, but rarely about ones who are younger.
Keeping that in mind, there are definite age-level distinctions among sports-related YA authors. Green, Mike Lupica, and John Feinstein are three whose books bridge the juvenile/young adult fiction gap. Choose their books for, again, a 5th to 7th grade student.
For older readers who can handle more mature sports-related content, you might try John Coy's Crackback, Pete Hautman's Rash, or Gordon Korman's Pop. And for truly excellent story-telling, with sports always as a backdrop, read Chris Crutcher. I lose myself in Crutcher's true-to-life characters and gut-wrenching stories so much that I don't even notice I'm reading a sports book. Whale Talk and Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes are particularly good, and Deadline, a Soaring Eagle award nominee from 2008-2009, has been described to me (by a teen) as "life-changing." Be aware that Crutcher, who has worked with teens in a variety of professional settings, writes the way teens often speak; his books are frequently challenged, mostly for language. If your teen is old enough to handle the language, these books offer much potential parent-child discussion material . . . even if you can't explain what first down is.