Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
Published by Feiwel & Friends
YA, Contemporary, Mystery-Thriller, Queer
Release Date : 1st June 2021
Trigger warning : Racism, Homophobia, Bullying, Blood, Alcohol consumption, Car accident, Racist slurs, Stalking, Emotional abuse, Panic attacks/disorders, Outing of queer characters, Suicide ideation, Suicide attempt, Death of parent, Gun violence, Murder, Toxic Relationship, Sexism, Forced institutionalisation, Drug use, and Vomit (Source : click here)
Gossip Girl meets Get Out in Ace of Spades, a YA contemporary thriller by debut author Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé about two students, Devon & Chiamaka, and their struggles against an anonymous bully.
When two Niveus Private Academy students, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, are selected to be part of the elite school’s senior class prefects, it looks like their year is off to an amazing start. After all, not only does it look great on college applications, but it officially puts each of them in the running for valedictorian, too.
Shortly after the announcement is made, though, someone who goes by Aces begins using anonymous text messages to reveal secrets about the two of them that turn their lives upside down and threaten every aspect of their carefully planned futures.
As Aces shows no sign of stopping, what seemed like a sick prank quickly turns into a dangerous game, with all the cards stacked against them. Can Devon and Chiamaka stop Aces before things become incredibly deadly?
With heart-pounding suspense and relevant social commentary comes a high-octane thriller from debut author Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé.
“Hello Niveus High. It’s me. Who am I? That’s not important. All you need to know is… I’m here to divide and conquer. Like all great tyrants do. -Aces”
A suspenseful young adult debut that exceeded my expectations and breaks through my pre-existing notions towards dark academia.
It’s seems there are so many books being published with the setting of private schools, with premises about mystery-thriller, but none of them ever caught my eye. I’ve said it on Twitter that dark academia isn’t a genre I’m interested in. Ace of Spades is the only exception. Reading my friends’ mostly good reviews I have to pick this book up. After finally landing up a copy of the audiobook on Libby, I immediately listened to it. Starting the book I had doubts about the story, it is marketed as Gossip Girl meets Get Out, which are two things I could not relate to as it is two pieces of media I have never consumed. So I didn’t know what to expect and went in completely blind.
“The world isn’t ideal. This world, our world, the one with houses as crooked as the people in them. Broken people, broken by the way the world works.”
Ace of Spades is a YA contemporary mystery thriller and debut by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé. The story follows two main perspectives, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, students of a prestigious private school called Niveus Private Academy. They started off their third year of high school smoothly by getting chosen as the school’s senior class prefects. Both have positive outlooks for their third year, focusing hard on graduating and getting admitted into top universities. Even though both share the same goal and go to the same school they are from two different worlds. Chiamaka is the only daughter from a rich family that has lived in a mostly white community, all the while Devon is a student that went to Niveus on a scholarship growing up in a poor neighborhood rife with gang violence and drug dealing. The contrast between the two doesn’t stop there, growing up amongst the elite Chiamaka has ambitions to be at the top, she doesn’t shy away from manipulating people and using them as a ladder for her to be more popular. Devon on the other hand just wants to be invisible, graduate quietly, and not be in the spotlight. Until one day, a person by the name of Aces starts spreading rumors and dirty secrets about them both that will slowly escalate to something more sinister.
“I think anyone can be nice, but it’s not about being nice. You can’t escape a history like that and not be affected.”
In Ace of Spades, Faridah’s writing style becomes the thing that makes the delivery of premise more gripping and sometimes spine chilling. The doubts I had about typical school setting and typical high school digital exposure, which is the most common plot tool used in any modern YA book, is blown away by the way Faridah uses these two elements to propel the story to a much darker and malevolent tone. I am gobsmacked that this is Faridah’s debut work, the writing quality is on another level and the plot is well fast paced with just the right amount of suspense that leaves you at the edge of your seat. The bar is high from here on out the next time I pick up a new book.
The themes that Faridah weaved into Ace of Spades about racism, homophobia, and classism involving the two black-queer main protagonists is executed marvelously. Each protagonist went through a variety of horrible incidents that threatens to ruin their present life and future. These incidents shows that no matter what their economical standing is they still get treated horribly and suffer from the same prejudices and racist acts of white supremacists. Instead of explaining Faridah shows it through her characters the racial injustice that has, for a very long time, victimize black people. The racial injustice could take any form besides outright violence and hate through systematic and institutionalized means. Faridah doesn’t hold back and bluntly depicts the acts that started of small, from microagressions that escalates to a much more rooted and larger scale.
It sounds wild, I know, but racism is a spectrum and they all participate in it in some way. They don’t all have white hoods or call us mean things; I know that. But racism isn’t just about that– it’s not about being nice or mean. Or good versus bad. It’s bigger than that.
The characterization of Devon and Chiamaka are very well fleshed out. Devon is a queer aspiring musician that dreams of going to Julliard learning piano. In the story he shares his struggles and experiences as a closeted gay boy living in a poor neighborhood as the incidents involving Aces pushes him to grow stronger. Devon’s love for his family, his vulnerability, and kindness became the foundation of his character that strengthens him in fighting back. Though many people have disappointed, betrayed, or left him; he didn’t let that corner him. While Chiamaka, a young woman brimming with natural strong sense of leadership and ambition becomes the fire that fuels their fight against Aces. Chiamaka’s whole character arc I can personally relate to as she is publicly slut shamed and mocked for her previous private relations. She comes out of the experience much stronger and braver than before not giving in to anyone’s shit and cutting out the people she can no longer trust. I love that in Chiamaka’s character arc she gets to discover her sexuality and come to celebrate her heritage instead of trying to hide it with a hair straightener. Their growth and coming of age is fully realized adjacent to the uncovering who is behind the disgusting acts. With the progression of plot and character development the mystery and suspense progresses to it’s climax which I admire Faridah for structuring the story this way.
Stories like this gives us readers an insight and serves as a reminder that we shouldn’t be complicit towards racism against any race packaged in a story that could propel nuanced discussion amongst peers. The story also shows white characters that are good natured but passive or outright ignorant, in the face of racial injustice that are experienced by their child or friend. They chose to not act or stand up for their child or friend which leads to their complicity in the racist acts. Something that should be known and well understood by everyone that it is an effort involving the whole society. As it is done in the story through the use of social media, by doing protest, and being active in activism.
Final thoughts, Ace of Spades is an astounding debut and the best breakthrough YA book in 2021 in my opinion. The high quality writing, the amazing twists and turns, the important relevant themes, and overall great characterization and character development blew me away! The ending, though left open ended with a few things unresolved, is satisfying. It gives a sense of hope for a better future and gives newfound drive in the fight against racial injustice. I highly recommend Ace of Spades for everyone to read, it is a well paced story that will surely hook you in and is chillingly addictive.