There’s a really interesting microtrend in 2022 YA books: teens who play games. I’m not talking about sports or video gaming. I’m talking about board games and card games, including chess, Scrabble, and more. I love this small trend because it reflects the realities of young people who love a good game, while also reflecting the reality of our world today, wherein more and more time is spent inside out of necessity. Gaming allows readers to get to know characters through so many lenses, including their competitiveness, their ability to strategize, and their ability to foster relationships with other characters through a passion for games.
I’ve pulled together the forthcoming YA books about teens who game, alongside a number of backlist titles that also include gaming in some capacity. I did not include books about board games, a la Diana Peterfreund’s YA books based on the board game Clue. This isn’t a comprehensive list, so I know I’ve left out some other great ones, but feel free to drop those titles into the comments to make an even bigger collection of YA gaming titles. Note, too, that while there are some books by and about people of color, those aren’t as abundant (yet!).
Descriptions come from Goodreads, and I’ve included the publication dates for 2022 titles.
YA Books About Games
Aces Wild by Amanda DeWitt (June 9, no cover yet)
Some people join chess club, some people play football. Jack Shannon runs a secret blackjack ring in the school’s basement. What else is the son of a Las Vegas casino mogul supposed to do?
When Jack’s mom is arrested, he knows something’s not right. His mom was sold out, and he knows who did it. Peter Carlevaro: rival casino owner, mobster, jilted lover (gross). Jack hatches a plan to break into Carlevaro’s inner sanctum and turn the blackmailer into the blackmailed, but he can’t do it on his own. Luckily he has just the team—his friends from all over the country that he met on online fandom forums, brought to together by the fact that they’re all asexual.
All he needs to do is infiltrate a secret high stakes poker ring, save his mom, and dodge any dark secrets about his family that he’d rather not know, all while hopelessly navigating what it means to be in love while asexual. All before the end of the summer. Easy, right?
From the slightly fantastical to the utterly real, light and sweet romance to tales tinged with horror and thrills, Game On is an anthology that spans genre and style. But beneath each story is a loving ode to competition and games perfect for anyone who has ever played a sport or a board game, picked up a video game controller, or rolled a twenty-sided die.
A manhunt game is interrupted by a town disappearing beneath the players’ eyes. A puzzle-filled scavenger hunt emboldens one college freshman to be brave with the boy she’s crushing on. A series of summer nights full of card games leads a boy to fall for a boy who he knows is taken. And a spin the bottle game that could end a life-long friendship.
Fifteen stories, and fifteen unforgettable experiences that may inspire readers to start up that Settlers of Catan game again.
Freshman Daniel Pratzer gets a chance to prove himself when the chess team invites him and his father to a weekend-long parent-child tournament. Daniel, thinking that his father is a novice, can’t understand why his teammates want so badly for them to participate. Then he finds out the truth: as a teen, his father was one of the most promising young players in America, but the pressures of the game pushed him too far, and he had to give up chess to save his own life and sanity. Now, thirty years later, Mr. Pratzer returns to the game to face down an old competitor and the same dark demons that lurk in the corners of a mind stretched by the demands of the game. Daniel was looking for acceptance—but the secrets he uncovers about his father will force him to make some surprising moves himself.
Punks, Poseurs, and Pervs—Just Another Day at High School
Jessie is so excited to start her sophomore year of high school, with her carefully planned outfits and her ample stash of school supplies. But things take an unexpected turn when everyone in her life changes. Her two best friends have gone poseur-punk and are both flirting with her longtime crush. Her beloved older brother is about to go off to college—and he shaved his Mohawk and started dating the homecoming queen. Jessie is suddenly clique-less. When she starts chatting up a girl in homeroom, she’s surprised by an invite to join the Dungeons and Dragons crowd! Will hanging out with them make her a nerd? And when she sees how cute one of their members is, does it really matter?
Izzy, a practical-minded teen who intends to become a doctor, isn’t happy about her recent move from the Lower East Side across the river to Brooklyn. She feels distanced from her family, especially her increasingly incomprehensible twin brother, as well as her new neighborhood.
And then she meets Tristan.
Tristan is a chess prodigy who lives with his aunt and looks up to his cousin, Marcus. He and Izzy meet one moonlit night, and together they tumble into a story as old and unstoppable as love itself.
In debut author Shannon Dunlap’s capable hands, the romance that has enthralled for 800 years is spun new. Told from several points of view, this is a love story for the ages and a love story for this very moment. This fast-paced novel is at once a gripping tale of first love and a sprawling epic about the bonds that tie us together and pull us apart and the different cultures and tensions that fill the contemporary American landscape.
Tess Goodwin’s life in rural Iowa is sheltered and uncomplicated. Although she chooses to spend most of her free time playing chess with her best friend Zander, the farm-boy from next door, her skills as a bovine midwife and tractor mechanic ensure that she fits in with the other kids at East Chester High. But when her veteran father reenlists in the Army, moving her family halfway across the country to North Carolina, Tess is forced out of her comfort zone into a world she knows nothing about.
Tess approaches the move as she would a new game of chess, plotting her course through the unfamiliar reality of her new life. While heeding Zander’s long-distance advice for making new friends and strategizing a means to endure her dad’s imminent deployment to the Middle East, she quickly discovers how ill-equipped she is to navigate the challenges she encounters and becomes convinced she’ll never fit in at her new school.
When Leonetta Jackson is assigned as her mentor, she becomes Tess’s unexpected guide through the winding labyrinth of disparities between them, sparking a tentative friendship and challenging Tess to confront her reluctant nature. As the pieces move across the board of her upended life, will Tess find the acceptance she so desperately desires?
Hector has always minded his own business, working hard to make his way to a better life someday. He’s the chess team champion, helps the family with his job at the grocery, and teaches his little sister to shoot hoops overhand.
Until Joey singles him out. Joey, whose older brother, Chavo, is head of the Discípulos gang, tells Hector that he’s going to kill him: maybe not today, or tomorrow, but someday. And Hector, frozen with fear, does nothing. From that day forward, Hector’s death is hanging over his head every time he leaves the house. He tries to fade into the shadows — to drop off Joey’s radar — to become no one.
But when a fight between Chavo and Hector’s brother Fili escalates, Hector is left with no choice but to take a stand.
The violent confrontation will take Hector places he never expected, including a reform school where he has to live side-by-side with his enemy, Joey. It’s up to Hector to choose whether he’s going to lose himself to revenge or get back to the hard work of living.
noun: a person or thing that precipitates an event or change
When Najwa Bakri walks into her first Scrabble competition since her best friend’s death, it’s with the intention to heal and move on with her life. Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to choose the very same competition where said best friend, Trina Low, died. It might be even though Najwa’s trying to change, she’s not ready to give up Trina just yet.
But the same can’t be said for all the other competitors. With Trina, the Scrabble Queen herself, gone, the throne is empty, and her friends are eager to be the next reigning champion. All’s fair in love and Scrabble, but all bets are off when Trina’s formerly inactive Instagram starts posting again, with cryptic messages suggesting that maybe Trina’s death wasn’t as straightforward as everyone thought. And maybe someone at the competition had something to do with it.
As secrets are revealed and the true colors of her friends are shown, it’s up to Najwa to find out who’s behind these mysterious posts—not just to save Trina’s memory, but to save herself.
Didi tries her best to be a good girl, but it’s hard to keep track of her father’s rules. When she wins a chess tournament, he’s angry she didn’t win with a better move and makes her run laps around the house. When she runs laps the next day, she has to keep running until she’s faster than the day before. When she’s skilled enough to outshoot him with both a gun and bow and arrow, he grows furious when she won’t then shoot a baby rabbit who crosses their path. And Didi can’t do anything to escape being threatened with the Hurt Stick when she misbehaves.
He’s all she has, he reminds her. They have to be prepared. They have to be prepared to fight the rest of the world, when the world comes to an end. He’s grooming her, to keep her safe. He loves Didi. He does—he says so! And so Didi runs harder; annihilates her opponents in chess; takes down a deer at a dead run. He’s grooming her, after all, to be the best…he says so.