Queen Of The Tiles by Hanna Alkaf (320 pages)
Queen Of The Tiles Has A Grieving Friend, A Major Competition, and a Cryptic Mystery
For Najwa Bakri, Scrabble is her life and her entire world. When her best friend, Trina Low, dies at a major Scrabble competition, Najwa’s entire world falls apart. After a year-long hiatus, she decides to return to the competition once more to cope with her grief and to honor her best friend–the Scrabble Queen. It is the only way she thinks she can truly keep Trina’s memory alive. The same cannot be said about her fellow competitors, who only care about one thing: becoming the next Scrabble champion.
Being in the same venue where Trina passed stirs many emotions and anxieties in Najwa, and it only gets worse when Trina’s once-inactive Instagram begins posting cryptic messages implying that her death was not so unexpected after all. As Najwa dives into the clues and begins investigating, she quickly realizes that her friends are not truly who they say they are–and that Trina’s memory might not be the only thing that needs saving.
A Game Of Scrabble With A Twist
For a young adult (YA) mystery novel, Queen Of The Tiles checks off all the boxes that make it a bingeworthy read. Hanna Alkaf’s writing flows well, the element of surprise and suspense is on point, and the choice of vocabulary and metaphors used are exactly what you would expect from a YA mystery. I would even go as far as to say that mature middle grade readers would enjoy picking up the clues and trying to solve this mystery.
Each chapter is headlined with a new word and its definition, which relates to the events of the story, and I absolutely loved how they set the tone for each chapter. I thought it was clever of Alkaf to really incorporate the game of Scrabble into the structure of the book. It helped me as the reader feel immersed in the competition, especially since I am not a Scrabble player myself. I understood the intensity of the game and was also in the minds of the Scrabble players. The author did a great job delving into how they think of each word and break them down based on points. If I were to pick one thing to commend Alkaf on, it would definitely be her structure and layout.
Having a visibly Muslim character on the front cover of a novel is always a delight, but what I most enjoyed about this representation is the fact that Najwa is a likeable protagonist doing what she loves the most while still staying true to her beliefs. Her religious identity was not at the forefront of the story, nor was it something that impacted the way the plot moved. Highlighting other areas of the character’s life besides her visible religious affiliation was refreshing for me as a Muslim reader.
The Bottom Line: 3/5 stars
I have not read a book set in Malaysia before, and it was a delight to have that culture represented so well in this novel. I enjoy reading own voice stories and love seeing the language woven into the novel. It adds an extra layer of authenticity and dimension to the story.
While I do enjoy reading a good mystery, I found the big reveal to be slightly anti-climactic. It felt as though Alkaf tried to play it safe and guard her readers (and perhaps her grieving protagonist) from a twist too shocking. Having said that, novice mystery readers will really enjoy the buildup and the plot twist. I would recommend this book to young adult readers wanting to dip into the world of mystery and suspense.
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Maiya Alismaili is a 34 year old bookacholic who currently resides in Ottawa. With a background in Human Resources and Psychology, you will often find her people watching. When she doesn’t have her nose in a book, she will likely be exploring the town for new bookstores, rewatching Gilmore Girls, or cleaning to 80s music.
Favorite Book: A Fine Balance By Rohinton Mistry
Favorite Brunch Spot: Cafe Cristal
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