Queen of the Tiles by Hanna Alkaf
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.
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
EXPECTED APRIL 19TH, 2022
It’s been a year since Trina Low died, and someone wants her crown.
A lot of people do, actually. When Najwa returns to the Scrabble scene after Trina’s death, everyone remembers the Queen of the Tiles, for better or for worse. Trina’s shadow looms large over the tournament, and when her Instagram page begins to share cryptic posts again, it’s impossible to forget her presence.
But what if her death last year wasn’t an accident?
Faced with confronting a trauma still raw, and vying for the title her best friend once held, Najwa has three days to get to the bottom of Trina’s death. Every competitor could be a suspect, and every memory she struggles to recall might hold the answers. Who killed the Queen of the Tiles, and why stir matters up again now?
Everything about Queen of the Tiles is immensely clever.
I mean, it has to be. To play a truly competitive Scrabble game, you have to have an incredibly flexible vocabulary, ready for whatever tiles come your way. My vocab is halfway decent, but there are words in here I’ve never seen before, words that are, in fact, very real words. And these words are used brilliantly. Unlike other Scrabble players, Najwa considers the meaning of words just as much as their point value. It’s not enough for her to remember the words that cost her a game, or the point tally that brought her to victory. What matters is the context, the history, the meaning.
And to drive this home, every single chapter begins with a relevant word and definition. The connection to the chapter isn’t always clear at the outset, but it always combines with the content in clever, twisty ways. Each chapter is a bit like unwrapping a little present, and it makes it almost impossible to put this book down. What will the next word be? The next clue?
The wordplay really is on another level in Queen of the Tiles, and it’s impossible not to get sucked in. Yes, even if you don’t play Scrabble. Najwa has it right after all: it’s not just about the points, or the game. It’s about the meaning.
“But life, like Scrabble, is like that—you get the rack you get, and you just have to figure out how to make do.”
Beyond the incredible dictionary dexterity at hand, Queen of the Tiles rocks because it’s an engaging mystery. It’s just the right amount of unpredictable, where the clues come together completely in hindsight, but every twist is another startling step deeper into the mystery. Najwa’s characterization only makes this feeling stronger, as she struggles through all the tournament’s challenges. It’s already hard enough to win a Scrabble tournament, but she’s here facing the very same people and places that surrounded Trina’s death. Her memory is still difficult to access, a trauma response to the horror of watching Trina die before her eyes, and it’s nearly impossible to decide who she can trust, especially once Trina’s Instragram reactivates.
She’s trying, though. With occasional support from her sister via text, and with a level of commitment that must be deeply difficult to muster, she takes what she has and marches forward. It may be upsetting, sometimes even dangerous, but she’s determined to solve her best friend’s murder, and make sure that she claims the crown Trina left behind. Her devotion is ultimately stronger than her anxiety, and she uses all the skills she has to push towards justice for Trina’s memory.
This is a murder mystery that belongs on your shelf, no questions asked.
It’s clever and engaging, and it’s also a standalone. When the story is over, it’s over, with no tempting fragments still waving at you from the final pages. The completeness of Queen of the Tiles is a major draw, and its sly use of every little Scrabble tile and trick seals its place as a must-read title.
Thankfully, there’s not long to wait until its release! You can pick up Queen of the Tiles starting on Tuesday, April 19th. Make sure you do, or at least see if you can place a request for it with your local library. This book is a can’t miss event in every way! And hey, don’t you want to know who might become the next Queen of the Tiles? 👑
CW: loss of a loved one, self-harm