Check & Mate by Ali Hazelwood
Published by Putnam
Publication date: November 7, 2023
Genres: Fiction, Chick Lit, Contemporary, Young Adult
Mallory is only 18 but she already has an unwanted reputation. She’s the only person to have beaten Nolan Sawyer, the 20-year-old World Chess Champion who hasn’t lost in over three years. Some would be thrilled, but Mallory hates chess and hasn’t played since that infamous game. This is the board upon which Ali Hazelwood arranges her players in Check & Mate, a young adult rom-com novel.
There is plenty to enjoy in this quick read story. Hazelwood’s characters are all wickedly sharp and funny and she’s updated the YA romance trope with a protagonist who’s a chess phenom, filling the novel with matches, strategies, jargon, and historical chess references. This is not the typical teen pining for the cute boy plot. Mallory has real concerns about her family’s financial security and her mother’s health. She’s also dealing with her psychological issues around her father and the role she believes she played in her family falling apart.
I commend Hazelwood for all of the above. If you know you love YA romance novels then this is 4 fun stars and you can stop reading here. My situation is different. Romance is not a genre I’ve read much after weaning myself off a steady diet of Barbara Cartland throughout my teen years. 175 novels of penniless, virginal beauties with cornsilk hair and azure eyes being swept off their feet by dark, brooding aristocrats with chiseled features. It’s this reading that left me allergic to anything that smacked of women as delicate creatures incomplete without a man.
Check & Mate showed me that while the set-up is more sophisticated—intellectual pursuits, an independent young woman, diversity—the YA style is not. This is the third novel I’ve tried and now know I’m not interested in teen romance written for teens. The writing has a different, simpler tone with a lot repetitive inner dialogue and day dreaming about the other person’s physicality. In this case, the motion of Nolan’s throat when he swallows being one of the many things mesmerizing to Mallory, but less so to this reader.
It may not sound like it, but I’m happy I read Check & Mate. I thoroughly enjoyed the chess aspects and much of Mallory’s world and concerns. I didn’t care for the romance, but I love still being able to learn new things about my reading. So, if you’re like me, this is not the book for you, but if you’re in the mood for young romance Check & Mate is a great read.
Romance I did love? Try Nora Goes Off Script.
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