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.
CATALYST 13 points noun: a person or thing that precipitates an event or change
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.
Hanna Alkaf is the author of The Weight of Our Sky, The Girl and the Ghost, and Queen of the Tiles. She graduated with a degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has spent most of her life working with words, both in fiction and nonfiction. She lives in Kuala Lumpur with her family.
Publisher: Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (April 19, 2022)
Winner of the 2019 NCTAsia Freeman Award for Young Adult/High School Literature
* “This stunning debut from Malaysian author Alkaf filters Melati’s sympathetic internal narrative through a mental illness barely understood and poorly treated for the era, and the setting and secondary characters convey a visceral, nerve-wracking moment in time. This isn’t an easy story by far; an author’s note warns of ‘graphic violence, death, racism, OCD, and anxiety triggers’—but their inclusion makes it no less essential, no less unforgettable.”—Publishers Weekly, starred
* “This is a brutally honest, no-holds-barred reimagining of the time: The evocative voice transports readers to 1960s Malaysia, and the brisk pace is enthralling. Above all, the raw emotion splashed across the pages will resonate deeply, no matter one's race or religion. Unabashedly rooted in the author's homeland and confronting timely topics and challenging themes, this book has broad appeal for teen readers.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred
* “At the sentence level, Alkaf’s use of first-person narration expertly (and, in some cases, painfully) places readers inside Melati’s head as she experiences internal and external horrors....Echoing contemporary race relations, the subject feels especially relevant. VERDICT Alkaf’s immersive, powerful writing make this a must-purchase for all YA collections.”—School Library Journal, starred
* “Alkaf's succinct prose, peppered with unflinching details, is captivating, in this candid and open young adult novel.”—Shelf Awareness, starred