Queen of tiles by hanna alkaf

Name: Madeleine 

Grade: 11th

Title: Queen of Tiles

Author: Hanna Alkaf

Published in: 2022

Pages: 291

Rating: 4 stars

This is a wonderful book following Najwa, a competitive Scrabble player, at her first tournament since the mysterious death of her best friend, Trina, during the final game one year before. If you like teen fiction, murder mysteries, psychology, words, Scrabble, or all of the above, I recommend this book.

Najwa, a Malaysian Muslim girl, wrestles with her grief over the loss of her friend, fighting a war in her head against her overwhelming thoughts and emotions. She struggles to focus on the game and interact with her peers and competitors in a positive way. The weekend descends into greater chaos when strange messages and events bring the circumstances of her friend’s death into question again. Najwa begins investigating and discovers surprising secrets about Trina’s last interactions, which players had kept to themselves out of guilt or shame. These new findings throw suspicion on people Najwa trusts, and she is forced to question her friends’ innocence. She must unravel hidden stories within the Scrabble games and the hearts of her peers in hopes of bringing the criminal to justice.

Besides the thrilling murder mystery, I appreciated the author’s copious use of intriguing, scrabble words. The chapters are peppered with commentary on characters and situations in the voice of a word nerd, “If Yasmin were a word, she would be COMPLAISANT: eager to please, obliging.” If you actually remembered all the unusual words used and defined in the book, your vocabulary would skyrocket. Even if you don’t, I found it to add a pleasant bit of spice to the narrative.

The book starts out slowly and can be uncomfortable to read as you feel Najwa’s internal grief. Similar to Hanna Alkaf’s other book, “The Weight of Our Sky,” about a girl with OCD, the storytelling really gets into the main character’s head as she slowly overcomes her negative thoughts and takes back control of her mind to live a happier life. I found this to be a helpful perspective to understand the frustration of someone going through such an experience.

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