Sporty Books for Girls a Game Changer in the YA Genre

6 years ago

A few weeks ago, the fourth novel in the Pretty Tough YA series was published. Stealing Bases is about Kylie, a star pitcher focused on her lifelong dream of being recruited for Division I softball. But when Kylie arrives at her first practice of the season, she comes face-to-face with her worst nightmare: arch rival Amber McD. With all the drama happening out on the diamond, Kylie  needs to find a way to stop self-sabotaging herself in order to find success on her own terms.

Two-time Olympic Medalist and USA Softball player Jessica Mendoza said, “Stealing Bases is the perfect book for any girl who’s ever balanced sports with school, falling in love, and dreaming big. It felt so real—I loved it!

Like Stealing Bases, all the Pretty Tough books are set in the picturesque world of Malibu, in and around the prestigious Beachwood Academy. Against the backdrop of high-end lifestyles and even higher expectations, the characters deal with rivalries, romance, recruiting and more.   Making Waves (Pretty Tough #5) hits the shelves next March followed by Love Fifteen (Pretty Tough #6) Summer 2012.

So, what differentiates the Pretty Tough series from Gossip Girl, The Clique and any of the other popular YA novels out there?  For starters,  it’s the only series that features female athletes as protagonists.  The characters are all involved in high stakes drama on and off the field making it the perfect series for young adults who like their chick lit with a sprinkle of sports. The first book in the series has been adapted for a TV movie/original online series that will be available later this year.


I’m often asked how I came up with the idea of creating the Pretty Tough series.  I wasn’t a hard-core jock growing up or even a devoted sports fan. I swam and played tennis and won the odd trophy but sports were more recreational than competitive.  Now I’m the mother of two girls who have been hitting, kicking, diving, jumping, running and climbing since they were toddlers. Over the years I’ve taken them to gymnastics, softball and basketball practice, and even fencing class.  I’ve spent entire weekends at soccer tournaments and survived day-long track meets in 100 degree heat. In supporting my daughters’ athletic endeavors, I became a fan, a coach, a mentor and an active participant. I've been inspired by the many athletes I've met along the way and awed by the benefits girls receive by playing sports.

As a long-time entertainment executive, I developed characters, scripts and stories for most of my career. But when my kids were growing up, I couldn’t find any novels about girls playing sports. Sure, there were a handful of biographies – usually with lots of pictures – about female athletes but that was it. Why, I asked myself, were the popular jocks in film, TV and publishing always guys?  The media environment seemed to perpetuate stereotypes that had been around since I was a kid. Offering a diverse array of positive female role models would not only inspire girls, I thought,  but also help boys learn to respect females they encounter in their lives. And since girls aren't supporting cast members in real life, why should they play that role in popular media? 

 You Can’t Be What You Don’t See

Whether you’ve studied childhood development or not, you probably inherently understand that kids model themselves after what they see.  Ever wonder why girls have a reputation for being catty, back-stabbing bitches?  Maybe it’s because that’s the imagery they most often see in popular culture. If girls are subject to books and TV shows in which mean girls reign, then that’s who they’ll try to emulate. Or if they see women sexualized and objectified, they'll assume it's okay. When women and girls are  portrayed as passive individuals, incapable of physical activity and competition, girls watching or reading about them view the behaviour as normal. 

Unable to find any realistic novels about girls who play sports, I figured I’d create some.  Of course creating a new genre is never easy.  Early on, Razorbill (the YA division of Penguin) recognized the need for contemporary fiction that reflected the current interests of girls.  Under the capable hands of publisher Ben Shrank,  we’ve worked with a team of great writers and editors (shout outs to the awesome @LizTigelaar, @Keri Mikulski, Kristen Petit, Lexa Hillyer, Gillian Levinson and others) to craft stories that are accessible to a wide range of middle and high-school aged readers.

The books are fun (think Sweet Valley High with a sports twist), well-written (appropriate for reluctant readers) and most importantly, relevant.  We want girls to understand that being a female athlete is not an oxymoron; that they can successfully balance multiple aspects of their lives. They can be smart and beautiful as well as tough as nails.  Girls should be admired for a combination of attributes; not just one.  Bottom line: being pretty AND tough are not mutually exclusive.

What’s so cool about the series is that the protagonists have broken down barriers that existed when I was younger.  They (along with my daughters and girls of their generation) have destigmatized what it means to be a female athlete. Pretty Tough empowers and motivates young women to embrace their athleticism and kick a little butt in the process.  

What we’ve learned via the books is that a large percentage of girls have a visceral connection to Pretty Tough.  They embrace the duality.  Most girls realize that being a tomboy doesn’t prevent them from being girly and being a girl doesn't make them weak or less intelligent.  They’re confident, they command respect and they can’t be reduced to just one identity. 

Navigating a life course is filled with variables and tween/teen girls have to make hard personal choices to express their identity.  Through their performance, their bodies, clothes, activities, etc. they try to chart a course that lies acceptably within ideas of what it is to be a girl.  But no one fits into a box. Pretty Tough tries to draw attention to all the strengths girls possess and inspire them to feel beautiful because of their incredible abilities.

Here comes the shameless plug.  Unless consumers support books like Pretty Tough, they’ll disappear from the bookshelves. So visit your local bookstore (they’ll be happy to see you) or, if you must, order from your favorite online site. And yes – they’re available as e-books (nook and Kindle).

Why? Because if we don’t learn to inspire and challenge our daughters, and ultimately theirs, then who will? Plus, girls kick grass! Now pick up a copy of one or all the books. Share them. Send us ideas for new storylines. And if your daughter loves sports – support her in every way you possibly can.  If you made it this far, thanks for reading, and play on….

 Oh, and here's a link to the books on Barnes & Noble.





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