Queen of the Tiles

S. & S./Salaam Reads. Apr. 2022. 304p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781534494558.
Gr 7-10–After Trina “Queen of the Tiles” Low dies suddenly in the middle of a heated Scrabble championship, her friend Najwa backs away from the Scrabble circuit as she grieves. Fast forward to the same competition a year later in Kuala Lumpur, where she is determined to claim the empty throne in Trina’s honor. As the championship weekend kicks off, dark enigmatic messages emerge from the dead girl’s Instagram account, implying foul play. Najwa and some of her Scrabble cohorts investigate to bring justice for Trina. Secrets begin unraveling, providing clues and red herrings as to who is responsible for the demise of the former champion. Alkaf’s protagonist is Malaysian and a hijabi Muslim woman, like herself. The cast encompasses lesser-represented Southeast Asian characters in YA lit, including Chinese and Indian in a Malaysian setting. Mental health is also explored via therapy, panic attacks, and grief. The author provides content warnings for on-page death; descriptions of anxiety, PTSD, and panic attacks; and discussions of grief and loss. The fast-paced plot will have even the most reluctant of readers turning pages to uncover the culprit. Word nerds will embrace the puzzle references and attempt to solve them. A special treat is each chapter heading, which contains a Scrabble word, numeric value, and a definition that foreshadows the ensuing chapter.
VERDICT Genius wordplay, fantastic representation, and a tense whodunit make this one to recommend.

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