The prize: $10 million
The rules: Be the first to complete 10 tasks assigned by the Benefactor. Do not ask questions. Do not tell anyone what you're doing. Do not fail.
The consequences: Unknown
James' grandpa is dying. An experimental treatment has a chance of saving him, but James' family can't afford it. Not unless James competes in the Contest. The rules are sketchy, and the tasks seem dangerous...and definitely wrong. James has the feeling this contest is about a lot more than the prize money. But he can't back out now - can he?
"This first in a series of five novellas that follow a single storyline introduces the first participant in a contest that seems too good to be true. African American James takes care of his beloved grandfather, who is dying of a disease that's treatable with an experimental method not covered by insurance. Desperate, James enters a contest offered to him online by someone calling himself the 'Benefactor'. If James can complete 10 tasks before any other contestants, he will win $10 million. James agrees but soon grows suspicious that the Benefactor is up to no good. James must break into lockers, deliver mysterious packages, and, later, actively commit a crime. When he gets even the smallest detail wrong, the Benefactor threatens him.... Atwood weaves together the first three novellas, all of which follow different contestants, until a common narrative emerges. Although the novellas are numbered, they could be read in any order. Extremely short and written quite simply, they emphasize page-turning suspense..... Despite the book's brevity, James comes across as an admirable character even as he struggles to extricate himself from a seemingly impossible situation. Highly engaging, with more to come." (Kirkus Reviews)
"These are the first three novellas in the series The Contest; they need to be read in order. The mysterious Benefactor ropes in teens across a multicultural spectrum, each with a dire financial issue, by promising a prize of $10 million to the first one to complete a series of ten tasks, some less threatening than others. James's grandfather is dying from cancer, and only an expensive experimental drug offers hope in Stay in the Game..... The books create a thrill-seeking sense of impending disaster, and readers will root for the characters as they begin to unite to discover who the Benefactor is and what he/she really intends to do with the information they steal. The series offers a perfect choice for adolescents who struggle to find easy-to-access plots with believable characters." (VOYA)
"In this first book in the Contest series, written at a fourth-grade reading level, African American high school senior James Trudeleau receives a mysterious email from an anonymous 'Benefactor', who challenges him to compete in a contest with a $10 million prize - money that could pay for an experimental treatment for his dying grandfather. James reluctantly complies, struggling with his moral compass as he performs increasingly dangerous tasks. Breathless pacing and an exciting cliffhanger ending offer solid hooks for readers to seek out the subsequent volumes (Raise the Stakes, Break the Code, and Turn the Tables), all available simultaneously." (Publishers Weekly)