The best books that feature competitions to (literally) die for, that aren’t The Hunger Games

Who am I?

Games, challenges, and riddles. Who doesn’t love ‘em? Who doesn’t love to imagine, from the safe distance of your armchair (or couch, or car, or bed, or wherever you read) themselves in the characters’ shoes and imagine what they would do? We certainly do—so much so that we went ahead and wrote a time travel series based around them. There are few things more captivating than a high-stakes game, in which competitors grow rapidly under the pressure of a rapidly ticking clock, tight constraints, and sometimes deadly circumstances. The following list is a sampling of books (mostly young adult, with one exception) that fall in this category. 

I wrote...

The Time Trials

By Jon McConnell, Dayna McConnell,

Book cover of The Time Trials

What is my book about?

Walkman-toting, guitar-playing Finn Mallory blames himself for his parents' deaths and would do anything to turn back time and set things right. So, when he's recruited into a secret club at his new school that specializes in competitive time travel games, Finn sees a world of opportunity open before him. The games, however, are far from benign. Competition is cutthroat. Scenarios are rigged. And the mysterious timekeepers who organize it all have no qualms about using—or disposing of players—to suit their own sinister plans.

Now Finn must decide who he can trust while making peace with his past if he's to have any hope of leading his team to victory and surviving his junior year.

The books I picked & why

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By Neal Shusterman,

Book cover of Scythe

Why this book?

Citra and Rowan, two ordinary kids in a post-mortal world, are thrown for a loop when they’re recruited as apprentices to a scythe. What’s a scythe, you ask? Well, in this world, it’s a lot more than a farming instrument. In this dystopian society in which people don’t die, a scythe’s job is to select the unlucky few who must be sacrificed in the name of controlling the world’s population. As Citra and Rowan adjust to the scythe lifestyle and begin to form a bond (a very compelling “will they/won’t they” relationship that spans this YA series), they’re blindsided yet again: they’ll be competing—against each other—to earn the title of a licensed executioner. The world-building in this series was riveting, original, and detailed without being overwhelming. 

The Night Circus

By Erin Morgenstern,

Book cover of The Night Circus

Why this book?

Celia, abandoned by her magician father, and Marco, an orphan, are raised by mysterious surrogates and trained in the arts of “new” (Celia) and “old” (Marco) magic, with the understanding that they will someday compete against another powerful magician. As they come of age, their worlds collide at the Night Circus, a magical venue that only opens under cover of darkness, and Marco is forced to acknowledge his intense feelings for Celia; but another realization sets in quickly after: Marco’s mysterious opponent is none other than the one he loves. This novel will wrap itself around you with its lush prosh and dreamy setting. 

The Inheritance Games

By Jennifer Lynn Barnes,

Book cover of The Inheritance Games

Why this book?

What young adult novel is complete without an orphan, or several? This book follows Avery Grambs, who (like our Finn Mallory) is getting through high school on scholarship without a dollar to her name until she’s mysteriously bequeathed an entire fortune by some random, deceased millionaire. Here’s the rub: Avery has to move into this mysterious benefactor’s estate, which she’ll be sharing with his dispossessed family, who are none too happy to see her. Riddles, puzzles, and codes abound (as well as all kinds of tropey goodness) in this young adult first-in-series. 


By Stephanie Garber,

Book cover of Caraval

Why this book?

Scarlett has always wanted to attend Caraval, a mysterious game/performance that often incorporates an audience member and blurs the line between reality and fantasy. She finally gets her chance just as she’s on the cusp of marrying and moving away. But Scarlett’s in for far more than she bargained for: the audience member chosen for this round of Caraval is her beloved sister, who is whisked away and must be found before the conclusion of Caraval’s five nights. This first-in-series is chock full of fantasy, adventure, and romance.

The Selection

By Kiera Cass,

Book cover of The Selection

Why this book?

Classism and competition meet in this young adult first-in-series. Thirty-five poverty-stricken girls compete for a chance to swap out their down-and-out lifestyles for a chance at wealth and prestige. Being “selected” means winning the affections of heart-throb Prince Maxon and being allowed to live in some pretty fabulous new digs (it’s a palace!). But what happens if the selected one doesn’t want to be selected? That’s the case for America, our protagonist…until she actually gets to know the prince she’s won. Some have said this series is The Hunger Games meets The Bachelor, and I couldn’t agree more. 

5 book lists we think you will like!

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