Considering how central sports are to many teens’ lives as a source of friendship, belonging, accomplishment, and mental and physical wellness, it’s surprising that more books don’t make athletics an important part of the storyline. Fortunately, in a marked departure from previous publishing trends, many recent titles are showcasing a broader range of sporting activities and refreshingly diverse characters. Even readers who prefer watching from the sidelines will get caught up in the action, which frequently revolves as much around the emotional and interpersonal aspects of competition as the game play.

Out of Left Field, by Jonah Newman, colors by Donna Oatney (Andrews McMeel Publishing, March 26): Cartoonist Newman’s graphic novel debut is a touching coming-out story inspired by his own high school experiences. Bright, vibrant art and touches of humor help soften the more emotionally challenging, all-too-recognizable moments of shame and bullying as a nerdy boy is motivated by a crush to join the school baseball team, soon becoming immersed in jock culture.

The Misdirection of Fault Lines by Anna Gracia (Peachtree Teen, April 2): Former elite athlete and coach Gracia brings her tennis knowledge to this emotionally astute novel. Three girls from very different backgrounds—financially struggling Alice Wu (who’s grieving her father), wealthy it girl Violetta Masuda, and Leylah Lê, who has diabetes and possibly an attitude problem—face the pressures of competition alongside family and friendship issues.

Lucky Break by Brooke Carter (Orca, April 16): Carter, whose own rugby-playing days came to an end after an injury, introduces readers to Trinidadian and Irish Canadian rugby player Lucy in this accessible, well-written page-turner that will immediately hook reluctant readers. Seventeen-year-old Lucy, who’s also a top student, sees her promising future derailed by a broken ankle sustained during a game, and her mental health suffers as a result.

Crash Landing by Charmaine Anne Li (Annick Press, April 16): Skater Li’s debut taps into the tremendous popularity of skateboarding. This beautifully realized coming-of-age story centers around a diverse community of Vancouver teens. The queer Chinese Canadian leads—close friends (and eventually more)—boost one another’s dreams. Jay’s filming of Ash’s skating forms an art school portfolio for Jay and a skate competition entry video for Ash.

Pillow Talk, by Stephanie Cooke, illustrated by Mel Valentine Vargas (HarperAlley, April 30): Competitive pillow fighting may not yet be well known, but Cooke (who actually participated in a Toronto league!) and Vargas will grab readers with their colorful, action-packed, and deeply affirming graphic novel. Ontario college student Grace Mendes struggles with poor self-concept, but pushing past her comfort zone to do battle as pillow fighter Cinderhella opens up a new world.

Hurdles in the Dark: My Story of Survival, Resilience, and Triumph by Elvira K. Gonzalez (Roaring Brook Press, May 28): This courageously honest memoir by a former elite athlete and track-and-field coach will help many readers feel seen. Gonzalez’s remarkable story includes surviving traumas such as her mother’s kidnapping by a drug cartel, suicidality, time in juvie, and sexual abuse by her high school coach. Ultimately, her determination and hard work won her a college sports scholarship.

Laura Simeon is a young readers’ editor.