Friday, April 15, 2022

Review: Queen of the Tiles by Hanna Alkaf

I was so excited to get my hands on an ARC of today's read. Isn't that cover amazing? Plus, it more than hints at the theme of this one: Scrabble. I've never read a tale set in the Scrabble arena and considering this one also holds a murder mystery...well, obviously, I had to take a peek at it! 
 


QUEEN OF THE TILES
by Hanna Alkaf
Salaam Reads
YA Mystery
320 pages


COMING...
APRIL 19th!!!









They Wish They Were Us meets The Queen’s Gambit in the world of competitive Scrabble when a teen girl is forced to investigate the mysterious death of her best friend a year after the fact when her Instagram comes back to life with cryptic posts and messages.

CATALYST
13 points
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.


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MY TIDBITS


Scrabble competitions, set in Malaysia, and a murder mystery? Add that cover, and I was over-the-moon when I got my hands on an ARC copy of this one.

Najwa is suffering panic attacks due to the trauma of watching her best friend and Scrabble champion, Trina, suddenly die at the end of a scrabble match right in front of her. Although the death happened a year before, the cause never came to light. A year later, Najwa tries to regain a hold on her life and re-enters the Scrabble scene after a long pause. Of course, her first competition is at the same place where her friend died...and exactly a year later. As Najwa tries to come to terms with her own ghosts, she watches all her earlier friends feverishly battle to take Trina's place. But Najwa has set her eyes on that position herself to honor the memory of her best friend and is on the best way to accomplish her goal...until a real ghost takes over Trina's dormant, social media accounts and teases with hints at murder.

This book was as grabbing as I hoped it be and also took a slightly different atmosphere than I expected...and that's great. The first chapter begins with Trina's sudden death in a traumatic way. Najwa then hits the scene with chapter two a year later as she comes across insecure and awkward, and tries to force herself to re-grasp her life. The author has done a very good job at allowing Najwa's emotions, thoughts, and inner-struggles to gain a strong foothold in the first chapters. And while this usually would turn 'action-loving' me slightly away, there is enough going on in the undertones to start building the basis for the mystery and keep it more than interesting. 

While Najwa's depth and warm-heart amidst her insecurity make her a wonderful heroine, the side characters can't be overlooked. Each one holds personality, quirks, secrets, and adds the right bite to form a rich atmosphere around Najwa and the intrigue. It makes it impossible to figure out who the true murderer is (and this does hit with complete surprise, at the end), while adding tension at every turn. 

Then, there's the unique setting, which delights from all of its nerdiness. Najwa swims in words and understands the world by holding them close. Each chapter begins with a unique word, the point amount it gives in Scrabble, and a definition, which holds meaning at the beginning of the chapter. Her thoughts rotate around complex words, which she defines in her head, as she uses them to base herself and what she experiences or notices around her. It adds an odd and intriguing aspect, which gives this story its own flair.

This one is a treat to read. It does have a couple triggers as there is a death, panic attacks, and a bit of bullying, but these aren't anything harsher than even tween audiences can handle.  There were a couple things surrounding the death, which seemed muddled over, and for someone with as much issues with the trauma as Najwa had, the idea of her rejoining everything at the same site on the anniversary raises an eyebrow, but this story more than works. I enjoyed it quite a bit and recommend this one to even tweens and up (although it is a YA read, too), since its such an easy, engaging, and fun read.


And here she is...

Hanna Alkaf is the author of The Weight of Our Sky, The Girl and the Ghost, and Queen of the Tiles. She graduated with a degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has spent most of her life working with words, both in fiction and nonfiction. She lives in Kuala Lumpur with her family.

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