In Ali Hazelwood’s YA debut, chess rivals play major gambits with each other’s hearts and minds on and off the board.
Good to know
Enemies to Lovers
Mallory Greenleaf is done with chess. Every move counts nowadays; after the sport led to the destruction of her family four years earlier, Mallory’s focus is on her mom, her sisters, and the dead-end job that keeps the lights on. That is, until she begrudgingly agrees to play in one last charity tournament and inadvertently wipes the board with notorious “Kingkiller” Nolan Sawyer: current world champion and reigning Bad Boy of chess.
Nolan’s loss to an unknown rook-ie shocks everyone. What’s even more confusing? His desire to cross pawns again. What kind of gambit is Nolan playing? The smart move would be to walk away. Resign. Game over. But Mallory’s victory opens the door to sorely needed cash-prizes and despite everything, she can’t help feeling drawn to the enigmatic strategist....
As she rockets up the ranks, Mallory struggles to keep her family safely separated from the game that wrecked it in the first place. And as her love for the sport she so desperately wanted to hate begins to rekindle, Mallory quickly realizes that the games aren’t only on the board, the spotlight is brighter than she imagined, and the competition can be fierce (-ly attractive. And intelligent...and infuriating...)
Check & Mate
“I am reliably informed that you’re a Gen Z sex symbol.”
I nearly drop my phone.
Okay: I do drop my phone, but I save it before it splashes into a beaker full of ammonia. Then I glance around the chemistry classroom, wondering if anyone else heard.
The other students are either texting or puttering around with their equipment. Mrs. Agarwal is at her desk, pretending to grade papers but probably reading Bill Nye erotic fanfiction. A hopefully-not-lethal smell of ethanoic acid wafts up from my bench, but my AirPods are still in my ears.
No one is paying attention to me or the video on my phone, so I press Play to resume it.
“It was on Time magazine two weeks ago. On the cover. A picture of your face, and then ‘A Gen Z sex symbol.’ How does that feel?”
I am expecting to see Zendaya. Harry Styles. Billie Eilish. The entirety of BTS, crammed on the couch of whatever late-night show the YouTube autoplay algorithm decided to feed me after the pH experiment tutorial ended. But it’s just some dude. A boy, even? He looks out of place in the red velvet chair, with his dark shirt, dark slacks, dark hair, dark expression. Intensely unreadable as he says in a deep, serious voice, “It feels wrong.”
“It does?” the host—Jim or James or Jimmy—asks.
“The Gen Z part is correct,” the guest says. “Not so much the sex symbol.”
The audience eats it up, clapping and hooting, and that’s when I decide to read the caption. Nolan Sawyer, it says. There’s a description explaining who he is, but I don’t need it. I might not recognize the face, but I can’t remember a moment in my life when I didn’t know the name.
Meet the Kingkiller: The No. 1 chess player in the world.
“Let me tell you something, Nolan: smart is the new sexy.”
Why I love it
BOTM Editorial Team
When I first started working at Book of the Month, there was this author who had just come out with her debut novel. Maybe you’ve heard of it? It was 2021 BOTY finalist The Love Hypothesis. Since her explosive debut, Ali Hazelwood has continued to take the adult romance scene by storm. In her latest book, Check & Mate, Hazelwood has taken on a whole new genre—Young Adult—effortlessly introducing a new audience of readers to her signature voice and quirky, lovable characters.
Mallory Greenleaf never wants to play competitive chess again, especially after it tore apart her family. Nowadays, Mallory is focused on helping her mom take care of her sisters and pay the bills. But when she’s asked to play in a charity tournament, she begrudgingly relents…and wins against Nolan “Kingkiller” Sawyer—current world champion. After her victory, Mallory is given new opportunities to get back into chess. As she continues to win and rise through the ranks, Mallory must figure out how to keep her chess life and family life separate…and try not to fall for notorious chess player extraordinaire, Nolan.
Check & Mate is just as swoonworthy as previous Hazelwood books, and there’s a wonderful realness and vulnerability in Mallory and Nolan’s relationship that makes this a rewarding YA romance. It is chock-full of angst and the ups and downs of first love, and I couldn’t be happier to recommend it to Book of the Month members. Your move, add this one to your box!
Member ratings (1,354)
Reading Ali Hazelwood is so much fun:) I learn so much because I have to google all of the young people references. Keeps me current. Her writing is witty, sharp and funny. Thoroughly enjoyable!
New York , NY
Ali Hazelwood has nailed YA. The chess drama and romance was exciting and swoony. I loved this new vibe from her and I loved where the story went. Nolan was everything BTW! Super great romance!
Milwaukee , WI
As a rule I don’t normally read YA. But a book by Ali Hazelwood ? Had to give it a read! One of her better books! Love it! Read it! Now to ask my boyfriend to teach me how to play chess
Woodland , WA
This was so cute! I love how all of Hazelwood’s books adders social inequities and how the characters she builds defy them. Mallory and Nolan are adorable. This is a great YA book.
Harrisville , UT
This was a very cute story! I love Ali Hazelwood’s books, I feel that she is always trying to push the gender norm which is fantastic. Her books make for a delightful, easy read.