Hello hello and welcome or welcome back to my little bookish corner of the internet. Today I’m bringing you my review of the stunning debut Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé. I was absolutely blown away by this hard hitting, powerful, beautiful five star read, to the point it took me a few days to be able to put my thoughts into words.
Trigger warnings: racism, homophobia, sexism, bullying, thoughts of suicidial ideation, mentions of drug use and dealing
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?
The first thing I think it’s important to acknowledge before I write my review is that I’m reading and reviewing this as a white woman. I have things that hold me back as far as privilege goes being disabled, gay and poor, but I’m white, and I know that gives me far more privilege than a disabled, gay, poor person of colour. Because I’m white, I understand there are things I simply cannot understand, but I do want to do my very best to do so, and I know that reading books like this are only just one thing I can do as an ally.
Ace of Spades is one of the most compelling and cleverly constructed books I have read throughout all my obsessive time reading young adult thrillers. Starting off as what appears to be ‘light’ bullying and slipping into outright criminal behaviour, gradually increasing throughout the pages, it was horrifying to read but so brilliant it was impossible to look away.
The characters of Devon and Chiamaka are so well rounded, and jump from the pages. Their interactions change throughout the course of the book and their relationship development – especially Devon’s “God give me strength” attitude with her – gave some light relief at moments that were really tense and difficult. It helped to remind the reader that while Aces was a sinister force they were up against, these were just two teenagers, trying to make sense of what was happening to them and why.
Both characters wonder at points what it is that unites them in Aces relentless attacks, and both think, then hope, then wish to not be correct in what seems like the only thing they have in common: their skin colour. As I was reading, I was sucked along for the ride, hoping beyond hope it went deeper than that, connected to these two teenagers who are just trying to survive high school the only way they can. When it becomes obvious the full extent of what is going on, I audibly gasped outloud. It chilled me to my core.
Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé has written a beautiful, terrible book about how the world still is. The fact this is a fictional book and yet the plot is so plausibly constructed makes it wonderful and horrendous in equal measure. This will be a book that stays with me a for a long, long time, if it ever leaves me at all.
Along with tackling race discrimination, the book also looks strongly at bullying in general, and how to cope with your sexuality, both when you first start questioning it, and further down the road, when you start talking to your parents, as a teen. Having been on that journey, I wanted to lean in and hold both of their hands as these gay and queer (as the author has described them) teenagers learn how to love themselves for who they are, and not the boxes people have wanted to put them in.
It’s a stunning debut, and I cannot wait for what the author does next.