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Check & Mate

--Staff Picks Teens

Check & Mate

Ali Hazelwood
Published: 2023
Age Range: 16+
Genre: Romance
Awards: Goodreads Choice Awards Best Young Adult Fiction 2023

Mallory Greenleaf walked away from chess for good at the age of 14 after it destroyed her family. Now, four years later, she finds herself begrudgingly agreeing to compete in a charity tournament with her best friend. She also happens to beat the current World Champion, Nolan Sawyer, at said tournament and shocks everyone. She’s then offered a fellowship at a chess club where she’ll get paid to play for a year but she resolutely refuses…that is until she loses her job and the fellowship is the only way to get enough money to take care of her mom and sisters.

Determined to treat chess like a job and not get sucked back in, she tries so hard not to think about it outside her hours at the club but fails miserably. She also fails at not thinking about how handsome Nolan is and the way he looks at her.

I really enjoyed this young adult debut from Ali Hazelwood (The Love Hypothesis) and before reading this I honestly had no idea how…INTENSE…the world of chess is. Like Hazelwood’s other female protagonists in her adult novels, Mallory is intelligent, witty, bitingly funny, charming, and takes no shit from anyone. Discussion of sexism and gender discrimination in chess was handled well and much appreciated.

While this is a young adult novel, I would recommend it to older teens and mature readers. Mallory is 18 and Nolan 20. There are no explicit scenes, though much is heavily implied, and Mallory is very sex-positive and is not shy talking about her hookups with both men and women.