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Book Review: “Queen of the Tiles”

By Antara Gangwal November 10, 2022

Queen. 14 points. Noun: Winner of the annual Malaysian Youth Scrabble Tournament. For 16-year-old Malaysian teen Najwa Bakri, every word is measured by its worth on a Scrabble board. The game means everything to her, but it is also the reason behind her best friend Trina Low’s death. In Hanna Alkaf’s tumultuous thriller “Queen of the Tiles,” Najwa vows to avenge her best friend’s death, learning about both grief and growth along the way.

When Trina mysteriously dies in the middle of a Scrabble championship game, everyone is stunned. Trina was the perfect girl; her carefully-constructed image as the “Queen of the Tiles” commanded admiration and at times, hatred—which is why Najwa thinks that her death was not an accident. This year, Najwa plans to find the truth behind Trina’s death and honor her by winning the Scrabble tournament, becoming the new Queen of the Tiles.

Scrabble is expertly ingrained into the novel; Alkaf begins each chapter by defining a word and listing its Scrabble point value, setting the tone for the chapter’s events. Even Najwa’s emotions elicit new words and point values: she equates her friendship with Trina to a “syzygy,” 21 points and comes to a shocking “anagnorisis,” 12 points, by the end of the novel.

“Queen of the Tiles” also explores the complexities of grief. Alkaf masterfully portrays Najwa’s anxiety after Trina’s death unfolds in front of her, affirming that grief is a difficult, nonlinear process.

The novel started off strong; I sped through the beginning, eagerly anticipating each plot twist. Unfortunately, my excitement dissolved upon reaching the anticlimactic finale, primarily due to Trina’s insufficient development. She lacks depth, leading to confusion about her true nature. Trina and Najwa’s friendship—meant to be portrayed as toxic, spearheaded by Najwa’s jealousy—is also underdeveloped. More emphasis is placed on current plot twists rather than the past, leading to a disconnect that deprives the final reveal from the emotional punch it attempts to deliver.

“Queen of the Tiles” ultimately tells a unique story that explores the nuances of grief and friendship. However, it falls short of the depth that would cement it as a favorite.


About the Contributors

Antara Gangwal

Staff writer

Antara Gangwal is a sophomore at Leland High School and is a staff writer for The Charger Account. Her hobbies include reading, watching films and listening to music.

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