Goodreads: Queen of the Tiles
Age Category: Young Adult
Najwa Bakri left the competitive Scrabble tournament scene one year ago, when her best friend Tina Low died at the Scrabble table. Now, she’s back, attempting work through her grief and her panic attacks at the same venue where Trina died. But then Trina’s Instagram account starts posting again. Could it be that Trina’s death was actually murder?
Queen of the Tiles lured me in–as I have no doubt it will many a word lover–with the intriguing premise of a mystery set in the world of competitive Scrabble. However, while I enjoyed learning more about Scrabble tournaments, and the people who compete in them, I admit to finding the mystery itself lackluster. The plot is slow to start, the sleuthing sort of haphazard, and the drama almost nonexistent. I never really felt that Najwa or her friends were in danger–there was simply no suspense. Read Queen of the Tiles if you really love Scrabble, but maybe pass if you have high standards for thrillers.
Queen of the Tiles is probably more accurately described as a novel about grief, and not really a thriller. The mystery surrounding Trina Low, previous reigning champion of the Scrabble tournament scene, is more or less a set up for the main character, Najwa, to explore her feelings about a friendship where she constantly took backseat to Trina’s wants and desires. The book is Najwa’s journey to accepting what everyone else already seems to know–Trina was not a nice person. As such, it is admittedly difficult to really care about the mystery, since no one (aside from Najwa) really seems to mourn Trina’s loss (shocking and horrible as that may be). Also, the mystery is simply not that mysterious.
No one really finds Trina’s death suspicious until when, one year later, at the same Scrabble tournament venue where she died, Trina’s Instagram starts posting again. The posts are all scrambled letters, clues to decipher. Only Najwa and Trina’s former boyfriend Mark seem to care about the clues, though. Everyone else is content to feel a bit of unease or brush it off as a really bad prank. Because of this, there is no ambience of mystery, no feeling of suspense that bad things could happen. The plot just slowly meanders on to its, frankly, anticlimactic finale.
Queen of the Tiles has an intriguing premise, but fails to deliver. While I was drawn in by the promise of a high-stakes Scrabble tournament and a thrilling mystery, the drama is fairly low-key. Read this only if you really love Scrabble.