Barbara Carroll Roberts

Nikki on the Line

Nikki on the Line

Thir­teen-year-old Nik­ki Doyle dreams of becom­ing a great bas­ket­ball play­er. And when she’s cho­sen for an elite-lev­el team, it seems her dreams might be with­in reach.

But in a league full of taller, faster, stronger girls, Nik­ki sud­den­ly isn’t the best point guard on the court any­more. In fact, she’s not a point guard at all.

And if try­ing to find her place on this new team isn’t dif­fi­cult enough, Nik­ki is stuck tak­ing care of her high-ener­gy lit­tle broth­er after school every day, while her best friend spends more and more time with a new team­mate. On top of that, Nikki’s sci­ence teacher assigns a fam­i­ly tree project for their genet­ics unit — a project Nik­ki can’t pos­si­bly com­plete with­out reveal­ing the most embar­rass­ing fam­i­ly secret of all time.

With stress pil­ing up on the bas­ket­ball court, at home, and at school, Nik­ki begins to won­der who she real­ly is. Can she learn to com­pete at this new high­er lev­el? And how hard is she will­ing to work to find out?

More about Nikki on the Line:

Behind the Book

Why I Wrote Nikki on the Line — or a Short History of Girls’ High School Basketball (in One Family)

In 1940, my moth­er-in-law, Bet­ty Helen McLemore Roberts, was lucky enough to attend a high school that offered girls the oppor­tu­ni­ty to play com­pet­i­tive sports. Here she is with her bas­ket­ball team at J.J. Kel­ly High School in Wise, Vir­ginia (Bet­ty Helen is just to the right of the girl hold­ing the trophy).

Girls Basketball

I love their cool, shiny uniforms.

Here’s what wasn’t cool (or lucky), though. When Bet­ty Helen played bas­ket­ball, the peo­ple in charge of girls’ sports thought that “vig­or­ous” exer­cise was “unla­dy­like” and harm­ful for girls. So, unlike the boys’ teams that played with five play­ers on the floor, all of whom ran up and down the length of the court, drib­bling, pass­ing, shoot­ing, play­ing both offense and defense, the girls’ teams played what was called “a half-court game.” Six play­ers from each team on the court. Three in the front­court on offense. Three in the back­court on defense. No play­er could cross the half­court line. Also, the girls could not run while drib­bling the ball (too vig­or­ous). If they caught a pass, they could only drib­ble once before pass­ing the ball to anoth­er girl.

Wow. That doesn’t sound much like bas­ket­ball, does it?

But still, Bet­ty Helen got to play on a team. Com­pet­ing against oth­er schools. Work­ing togeth­er with her teammates.

Hav­ing fun. 

I had fun play­ing bas­ket­ball, too. Espe­cial­ly because by the time I start­ed high school in 1970, some things had changed. The peo­ple in charge of girls’ sports had final­ly decid­ed that vig­or­ous exer­cise was okay for girls. (What a sur­prise!) So now we could play full-court, drib­bling-the-ball, run­ning-the-length-of-the-floor, every­one-plays-both-offense-and-defense bas­ket­ball. Just like the boys.

And like my moth­er-in-law, I was lucky! Because unlike many school dis­tricts across the coun­try, my school dis­trict in Cal­i­for­nia offered com­pet­i­tive sports for girls. Girls’ teams — just like boys’ teams — could play against teams from oth­er schools in our dis­trict. Our sports weren’t con­fined to our P.E. classes.

But here’s what wasn’t lucky.

Here I am with my Mon­ta Vista High School team­mates in 1971 (I’m #11 and my sis­ter is #12). Do you see what we’re wear­ing? Gym suits and tie-on pin­nies with num­bers, while the boys’ teams wore real bas­ket­ball uni­forms sup­plied by the school. And do you see where we’re sit­ting? Out­side on the black­top courts. We were only allowed to play in the gym when the boys weren’t using it. Also, unlike the boys, we played only our reg­u­lar-sea­son dis­trict games. No dis­trict play-offs. No region­al tour­na­ments. State cham­pi­onship games? Not a chance.

Girls' Basketball

But still, we were play­ing. Com­pet­ing. And we were a team. (I still know the names of every girl in this pic­ture, even though, besides my sis­ter, I haven’t spo­ken with any of them in many years).

And then … some­thing big happened.

Some­thing Real­ly Big.

In 1972, the U.S. Con­gress passed a law called Title IX. And Title IX said that any school or col­lege or uni­ver­si­ty that received funds from the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment (which was pret­ty much all of them), had to pro­vide girls and women with the same oppor­tu­ni­ties they gave to boys and men.

In every aca­d­e­m­ic field.

And in com­pet­i­tive sports.

My friends and I didn’t see many imme­di­ate changes after Title IX was passed, but by the time my daugh­ter was in high school in the 2010s, her bas­ket­ball teams — by law — had the same fund­ing and gym-access and school sup­port as the boys’ teams.

And it wasn’t because they were lucky.

It was because they deserved it.

Because our laws had final­ly caught up to what was fair.

And here’s my daugh­ter, about to hit a 3‑pointer in a state tour­na­ment game.

Girls BasketballBut even after all these changes to girls’ ath­let­ics, when my daugh­ter was in mid­dle school and high school, there still weren’t many books about girls who loved play­ing sports.

That’s why I wrote Nik­ki on the Line.

For all the sports-lov­ing girls like my daughter.

And for the girls my moth­er-in-law and I had once been.


  • Geor­gia Chil­dren’s Book Award Final­ist, 2020–21
  • Maine State Book Award Final­ist, 2020–21
  • CCBC Choic­es 2020 Best-Of-The-Year List, Coop­er­a­tive Children’s Book Cen­ter, Uni­ver­si­ty of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion, Notable Chil­dren’s Books, Long-list­ed 2020
  • Par­ents’ Choice Rec­om­mend­ed Award for Nik­ki on the Line Audio­book. Nar­rat­ed by Chris­tine Lakin, 2019
  • Den­ver Pub­lic Library “Best and Bright­est” Chil­dren’s Book List, 2019 
  • Barnes & Noble Best New Books for Young Read­ers, March 2019
  • Book­ends Blog Best-of-the-Year List, 2019


“A tremen­dous book about bas­ket­ball, tak­ing risks, and becom­ing your true self.” (Gary D. Schmidt, New­bery and Printz Hon­or-win­ning author and Nation­al Book Award finalist)

“Nik­ki is instant­ly rec­og­niz­able as an every­girl for the 21st cen­tu­ry. She is fun­ny, thought­ful, and awk­ward. She is clever and kind. … Read­ers who know what it’s like to strive for some­thing almost out of reach, fail and try again, will have noth­ing but respect and affec­tion for Nik­ki. And read­ers of any age who thought they had no inter­est in bas­ket­ball may find them­selves utter­ly fas­ci­nat­ed by the sport.” (Shelf Aware­ness, Max­i­mum Shelf)

“A nov­el about iden­ti­ty and friend­ship, fam­i­ly and change that is also an action-packed sports sto­ry in which Nik­ki and her team­mates’ pas­sion for the game is pal­pa­ble.” (CCBC)

“Fun and per­fect­ly bal­anced, Nik­ki on the Line is impos­si­ble to put down, even for read­ers who know noth­ing about bas­ket­ball.” (Indies Intro­duce Winter/Spring 2019)

Nik­ki on the Line thrums with life, ener­gy, and ado­les­cent self-dis­cov­ery.” (Indie Next List, Kids’ Next, Spring 2019)

“Filled with bas­ket­ball games, mid­dle-school friend­ships, and com­pli­cat­ed fam­i­lies, this charm­ing and heart­felt debut is per­fect for fans of Ali Ben­jamin and Kwame Alexan­der.” (Book­list)

Nikki on the Line

Lit­tle, Brown and Com­pa­ny, 2019

ISBN: 978–0‑316–52189‑5

Mid­dle-Grade Fiction

325 pages

Age Range: 9–14

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