The Chosen: Contender, Book 1

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
The Chosen: Contender, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Deadly Maze Runner-like contest with Romans and dinosaurs.

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Kids say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Stories of real people who have disappeared throughout history such as Richard Halliburton, explorer; Louis Le Prince, inventor of film projector; and whole Ninth Legion (Roman soldiers). Some specifics on dinosaurs and the three ages they came from (though here they are mixed together). Survival tidbits, like how you can use honey as an antiseptic. Swordfighting and slingshot throwing techniques. A bit of dangerous chemistry when a character makes his own batch of quicklime.

Positive Messages

Survival isn't possible in this story without teamwork, ingenuity, resilience, bravery, trusting in your friends. Thoughts on how bullying affects people beyond the victims -- those pushed into going along with it, those afraid that speaking up will make them a target.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Cade is half-Indian and goes from being the scared kid who avoids confrontation to a leader among his peers in face of mortal danger. He uses strategy more than muscle to survive. Girls in this story don't put up with sexism from the boys and show how strong they are. Characters who have made big mistakes in the past find extreme ways to atone for it.


Teens die bloody deaths in fights with dinosaur-like monsters. Some are eaten afterward. Others are injured repeatedly by creatures hunting them. Dinosaurs killed with swords, fire, rocks with some gore mentioned (decapitation, splatter of blood, twisted blade through beast's skull, death throes). Many decomposing bodies found. Kidnapping. Bullies terrorize and hit their victims. Talk of a teen boy dead after a drunk driving accident.


Some minor flirtation and boy-girl skinny dipping with humorous talk of a boy's bare backside.


Regular but not extreme use of salty language under duress, including "s--t," "jackass," versions of "damn," "balls," "dumbass," "bloody hell," and "son of a bitch" in English and Latin. Racist talk when half-Indian boy is repeatedly called Apu (from The Simpsons) by a bully.


Mostly movies mentioned: Jurassic Park, Spartacus, Mad Max, Blair Witch Project, Terminator, Jumanji. Plus a longing for Google and Coke.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Stories of a boy caught with a beer and another who drove drunk and killed his friend.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Chosen: Contender is the first book in a sci-fi survival series by Taran Matharu, author of the Summoner series. Reform school boys wake up in a mysterious land where they fight for survival against monsters and dinosaurs. They battle mostly with swords, fire, and strategy, and a few of the teens are killed and eaten. Some gore is described, such as monster decapitation, splatters of blood, and a twisted blade through a beast's skull. Teens find many decomposing bodies, are kidnapped, and are terrorized and hit by bullies. There's talk of a teen boy dead after a drunk driving accident. Other mature content is milder. Salty language is used regularly (including "s--t," "damn," "jackass," "son of a bitch," in Latin as well as English). Readers will learn plenty about the Roman Ninth Legion, as well as explorers and inventors who've gone missing through the centuries. Cade, the half-Indian main character, is a history buff and the strategic thinker of the group. He starts out timid and turns into the group's capable leader who helps them face mortal danger together.

User Reviews

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Teen, 15 years old Written byLionboy July 21, 2019


I had hopes for this book, as I had read and enjoyed other books that this author has written. However, while the plot it unique it is still so strange that it’... Continue reading

What's the story?

In THE CHOSEN: CONTENDER, BOOK 1, Cade is stuck in a reform school after he's kicked out of prep school for a crime he didn't commit. He spends his days trying to avoid the bullies, especially Finch, and pretending he's not as smart as he is so that he doesn't attract attention. Then he wakes up all alone on the side of a cliff with a ravenous monster below him. Before he can figure out how the heck he got there, he has to save his own life. He kills the monster and runs toward a mysterious force field. When he finds he can push through it, he encounters more boys from reform school on the other side (Finch among them, unfortunately). They'd all just faced the exact same peril -- a test of some kind? -- and judging by the faraway screams, some other boys didn't survive it. Things just keep getting weirder as they cross a desert full of decomposing bodies in ancient Roman garb and enter what looks like a medieval keep. Relief at finding beds and a garden of food is short-lived when a floating drone-like computer pops up, recites their names, and begins counting down to something it calls a "qualifying round." The teens have six days and no information on what new horror awaits them.

Is it any good?

If you thought the Maze Runner series sorely lacked Roman soldiers and dinosaurs, the cruel world Cade and his reform school frenemies find themselves in has you covered. Plus, they fight dinos with samurai swords and slingshots in a medieval keep. Overall it works as a cool mashup, though a confusing one far into The Chosen. Readers will want to ask many questions of the ever-present floating computer before Cade thinks of them, just to get some idea of the how and why they are there and whether things get more involved plot-wise than kill or be killed.

Answers do come at the very end of this first installment -- grim ones. Here's hoping Contender, Book 2, doesn't go too far down a very dark dystopian path. Avid readers of the genre have been down it too many times before.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Finch, the bully, and how he affects others in The Chosen. Only Spex is hit by him, yes, but who else suffers? What would you have done in each boy's shoes?

  • If you've read the Maze Runner and Hunger Games series, what's similar about the contest in The Chosen? What's different?

  • Will you read more of this series? What other mysteries do you think Cade will unveil about this world?

Book details

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For kids who love science fiction and adventure

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