Pregame the Super Bowl with our favorite football fiction
Of course, leave it to the gigantic nerds at NPR to pregame the Super Bowl with a fiction list ... but to thine own self be true, even if it means getting stuffed into your locker later this afternoon. Every year since 2013 we've asked our staff and book critics for recommendations for Books We Love — NPR's annual, year-end books guide. So ahead of Super Bowl LVIII, we scoured the archives to find a line-up of titles to get you ready for game day.
Like Other Girls by Britta Lundin
Six-foot-two basketball player Mara Deeble gets kicked off her team for fighting, so she tries out for football instead. But in small-town Oregon, Mara's simple decision becomes a statement. A group of girls decides to try out for football as well, including Valentina, Mara's crush, and Carly, Mara's loud-mouth nemesis – who got her kicked out in the first place. It becomes a bonding experience for the whole group. Lundin not so subtly reminds us that Mara isn't the only young woman walking around with the constant desire to punch someone – and readers will be inspired by Mara's story of inner and outer growth. Published 2021.— Alethea Kontis, author and book critic
The Dating Playbook by Farrah Rochon
Any list of 2021's best romantic comedies must include Farrah Rochon's The Dating Playbook. The story she weaves about Taylor Powell, a fitness trainer in need of some clients, and Jamar Dixon, an injured football superstar in need of a secret but hard-core fitness regime, is fresh, funny and sexy. It also boasts a ripped-from-the-headlines plot that touches on topics like football and concussion, and how social media has made having a private life an artform for anyone with celebrity status. Rochon presents her themes with jump-off-the-page humor, and they go far beyond the ups and downs of romance to broader concerns about family, women, friendship and jealousy. Published 2021.
— Denny S. Bryce, book critic and author of The Other Princess
Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson
It doesn't seem like an obvious topic for young adult readers: chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, the degenerative brain disease that afflicts many former NFL players. But Jacqueline Woodson takes on this subject in a beautiful, touching way through the story of a boy whose football star father – a mountain of a man who wears a glittering Super Bowl ring and signs autographs for adoring fans – suddenly can't remember his son's name. She writes about love and loss, and dreams and decline, and offers a cautionary tale without being preachy. Her book could also help young athletes and their parents have difficult, important conversations about the risks and benefits of playing football. Published 2020.
—Sacha Pfeiffer, correspondent, Investigations
Snapped by Alexa Martin
The fourth book in Alexa Martin's football-inspired Playbook series has everything I've come to expect from Martin: smart, competent women, hunky, intelligent football stars, and a supportive cast of female friends who all have their own fully realized stories. But Snapped goes deeper; Elle, the heroine, is figuring out what it means to be biracial after being raised "colorblind" by her white single father, now dead. Quinton, our hero, is dealing with the repercussions of taking a knee on the field during the first game of the season – and taking care of his father, a former player now incapacitated by CTE. Snapped never feels didactic or heavy-handed, though. Martin brings it all together with skill and care, for a romance that – OK, I'm gonna say it – SCORES. Published 2020.
— Petra Mayer, former editor of NPR Books
The Redshirt: A Novel by Corey Sobel
Corey Sobel's stunning debut novel follows two college football players – Miles, a closeted gay man, and Reshawn, a quiet prodigy – as they navigate their lives at a Southern college. Sobel, who played football for Duke University, looks at the toxic masculinity that has defined the sport since its inception, with a gimlet eye and a rare sensitivity.
The Redshirt is an understated yet seething novel about what it means to be a man and is one of the best football novels to come along in recent years. Published 2020.
— Michael Schaub,book critic
The Right Swipe: A Novel by Alisha Rai
Alisha Rai's latest novel is so sexy, nuanced and whip smart that I gobbled it up in one sitting. Workaholic Rhiannon Hunter created a successful dating app, but her own love life is on the fritz. Former pro football player Samson Lima ghosted Rhiannon after one steamy night. Rhiannon's business rival hires Samson to pitch another dating service, and sparks fly when the two are unexpectedly reunited. This is a romance, so of course they end up together. But Rai seamlessly weaves their story into an insightful look at sexism in the tech industry and how concussions and CTE damage the lives of NFL players and their families. Published 2019.
— Jessica Reedy, supervising producer, Pop Culture Happy Hour
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