Queen of the Tiles by Hanna Alkaf

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Queen of the Tiles

by Hanna Alkaf

e-ARC, 304 pages

Expected publication: April 19th 2022 by Salaam Reads / Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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.

13 points
noun: a substance that speeds up a reaction without itself changing

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.

I received an e-ARC from the author through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

What I like

  • This is my second book by the author and I think one of my favorite things about her writing is how she captures her characters’ voice and bring them to life. In The Girl and the Ghost, Hanna Alkaf managed to bring that innocent, warm, tinged with loneliness of Suraya. In Queen of the Tiles, she captures Najwa’s grief and sadness, along with her passion and love and eventually acceptance.
  • The setting is really close to my heart– it reminded me of playing scrabble when I was young with my dad and even entering a competition once (and promptly got crushed lol)
  • The humor! I mean obviously the author has a great sense of humor (follow her on twitter guys!) but it’s also because I understood all the references and Malay language used- it’s so much fun I laughed a lot!
  • The pacing was a bit slow at first, with us getting to know Trina and Najwa and the scrabble scene but around the 25% mark when the first post appeared, things progressed really fast. In fact, the whole book happened during one weekend so it was such a page turner! In a way the mystery really intrigue me: who used Trina’s account? What secrets did she keep? Did someone really murdered her, and will 16 year olds actually committed murder???
  • I mean… realistically they could but it’s such a dark possibility to consider that I had to keep reading to find out…
  • Underneath the intense scrabble competition and murder (?) mystery afoot, it really was a story about friendship and I’m really happy with how introspective it was with Najwa and Trina’s friendship. The events in this book gave Najwa some distance and perspective on how her friendship with Trina was really like and who she really was. Obviously there’s no one side of a person and Trina wasn’t really the bad guy here but it allows room for Najwa’s growth to see Trina as she truly was instead of the parts she wanted to remember only
  • It can be a painful and emotional read at times, especially the first few chapters where Najwa’s grief and pain was the focus of the narrative. But it’s also great to see Najwa to have a good support system, especially since mental health is something that’s hard to talk about in SEA; her sister, her mother, and her therapist. I especially love how close Najwa was with her sister, her closest friend aside from Trina.

What I didn’t like

Nothing… I mean I stayed up all night to finish this so it was perfect for me 😄

A little note maybe, this book is comped with The Queen’s Gambit and while Najwa’s dedication for scrabble is comparable, there’s not a lot of scene on the actual game. Sure Najwa thought about the game, including words, strategy, points and past games a lot but there were not a lot of her actually playing the games. The glimpses are enough for me but yeah, just putting this out here if you’re expecting a lot scrabble games…

In short: I loved it! It was so much more than I expected: I went in expecting for some murder mystery but ended up also getting a story about grief, healing, friendship, and family. Najwa was a great character you’ll easily root for and the scrabble scene was really intense but we got to know some really interesting characters! Plus, I got to know some cool new words for my vocabulary so there’s also that. If you’re looking for some quick, emotional story about friendship and loss I highly recommend this book for you!

5 thoughts on “Queen of the Tiles by Hanna Alkaf

  1. I didn’t know this book was even a THING until like yesterday and I am so mad about it??? I love what you said about Alkaf’s writing bringing the character emotions to life, that sounds precisely like the kind of narrative I enjoy reading. GREAT REVIEW and I cannot wait to pick this one up!


  2. This is such a fantastic review, I immediately went to check how much the book was to get it. Still a bit expensive for me now unfortunately 😅 BUT YAY I am super pumped to read this soon, now. A little nervous about the painful grief narrative, but the mystery and excitement of the plot makes me too curious now!


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