Title: Queen of the Tiles
Author: Hannah Alkaf
Genre: YA, Mystery
Published: April 19th, 2022 (Simon Schuster BYR)
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.
Thank you to the publisher, Simon & Schuster Canada, and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
A year after Scrabble champion Trina mysterious dies during a competition, her best friend Najwa returns to the same contest, her first time back in the game since the incident. It has been a hard year for her, but she is hoping that this will be a way for her to heal and move on from her grief, and win the tournament in her friend’s memory. But the competition is at an all time high this year – with Trina gone, everyone is vying to be the new champion. When Trina’s Instagram account suddenly becomes active and starts posting cryptic messages implying that her death may not have been as natural as it was deemed, Najwa is determined to uncover the truth. As nearly everyone starts to appear suspicious, she begins to piece together the sequence of events from that day, all the while trying to figure out who is behind the posts and why they chose now to come forward.
The concept behind this book was such an interesting and unique one! I’ve never read any book set at a Scrabble competition. Reading this book reminded me of how much fun I used to have playing the game and made me get my board out again. Each chapter started with a word and its definition, foreshadowing what is to come which was a really nice touch and an excellent choice considering the genre of this book – it certainly helped raise the tension!
Najwa was an excellent main character. I thought that her struggle with mental health issues stemming from the shock of her friend’s death was very well portrayed, including how the trauma has affected her memories of that day. I generally don’t enjoy an unreliable narrator, but in this instance, Najwa’s rather choppy recollection of the events opens up a wealth of possibilities from the mystery angle. Thought the story is entirely from Najwa’s POV, the secondary characters had a lot of depth. They provided a very interesting contrast in terms of how different people viewed Trina as opposed to Najwa’s rather rose tinted memories of her friend.
The one question that I had throughout as Najwa continued to uncover more information about how Trina died was how she didn’t already know this information – surely she would have known her friend’s cause of death, even if was deemed natural? Najwa’s trauma based amnesia added an interesting layer to the story, adding the question of whether Najwa herself might have done or witnessed something on that day that she doesn’t recall, but I felt it wasn’t really used to full effect from the mystery standpoint as it could have been.
The story had a lot of potential, but the ending made the mystery fall flat after what was some great build up. As some key plot points were revealed, it was not too hard to make an educated guess at what might have really happened to Trina and the suspect pool was only so large. Queen of the Tiles was an intriguing, fast paced read with a unique concept. I really enjoyed it and learned a few new words too. I would highly recommend this book to mystery fans, particularly younger YA readers!
Queen of the Tiles releases on April 19th, 2022.
Do you plan to read this book? Let me know in the comments below!
All quotes in this review were taken from an advance reader’s edition and may differ from the final version of the book.