Never giving too much away, Literal Hotties focuses on reviews and recommendations of titles by womxn of colour, both fiction and non-fiction.
“Àbíké-Íyímídé chose violence with Ace of Spades, and I love her for it.”
You know how there are some people born to write thrillers? And thus are genetically predisposed to moving madly when writing plot twists? Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé decided to go hard and never go home in that category.
If you like Dark Academia, then look no further, because Àbíké-Íyímídé delivers that and more within her YA debut. Having been described as Gossip Girl meets Get Out, it’s hard not fall in love with mere the idea of Ace of Spades. I don’t often live tweet while reading a book, but when I say this particular read had me on the cusp of an episode – unless I tweeted my thoughts – I strongly mean it. By now, readers, you’re prone to my theatrics and dramatic reactions, but this was incredibly warranted.
Ace of Spades is set in the US, where our two protagonists, Chiamaka and Devon, are the only two Black students at the elite Niveus Private Academy. The pair couldn’t be more different, whilst Chiamaka rules the social hierarchy of the academy, Devon keeps to himself, flying under the radar and out of school gossip. That is, until senior year.
Àbíké-Íyímídé chose violence with this plot, and I love her for it. Just as the year begins, an anonymous person called Aces begins spilling the secrets of seniors at Niveus, and those seniors just so happen to be Chiamaka and Devon. Exclusively.
“Ace of Spades alternates between the perspectives of Chimaka and Devon, effortlessly highlighting the stark differences – as well as the development – of the two characters.”
We all know what this is: RACISM! Yet in an environment where the pair are consistently being gaslighted, and have no Black friends within their immediate circles to validate them, it is a realisation they take some time to accept. The pair – having never spoken before – reluctantly join forces to uncover who is trying to destroy their chances of a successful future, as well as their lives.
The novel alternates between the perspectives of Chimaka and Devon, effortlessly highlighting the stark differences – as well as the development – of the two characters. Chiamaka comes from a wealthy Italian and Nigerian family, whilst Devon comes from a one parent household in a less affluent area of town. Devon has received a scholarship to attend, and he’s intent on remaining under the radar until he has Niveus behind him and a scholarship to Juilliard.
Chiamaka is unafraid of the limelight, and instead has spent her high-school years clawing her way to the top of the social ladder, whilst maintaining one of the highest grades in the year. Not only is she Queen Bee, but she’s Yale bound, too. Honestly love that for her.
Chiamaka is deliciously cutting towards others, with a comedic delivery that is both deadpan and witty. Her consistency to feign nonchalance, or distaste, is a defense mechanism that keeps those beneath in check – because god knows how much people love to tear down Black women at the first opportune moment. Her mere existence is what evidently disrupts the comfort of Niveus’ elite.
“Cue an incredibly fucked up, yet exhilarating ride of investigations that leaves both the duo and the reader gasping for air and gathering a list of suspects.”
The way I was ready to fight everyone for Devon was damn near an embarrassment. When he suffers a betrayal from a close friend I became half tempted to Google ‘how to climb into a book and spin a character’s jaw’. This is why I commend the book for providing trigger warnings at the beginning, because part of the suffering that the duo are forced to go through is not just rooted in obscene racism, but in homophobia, and mining their overall trauma. Both teenagers are dark skinned, only magnifying their ‘otherness’ in a sea of mayonnaise sandwich students.
As the rumours/secrets that Aces spills begins to unfurl both of Chiamaka and Devon’s worlds, destabilising everything they’ve individually built at Niveus, the two are forced to work together in order to uncover the truth and expose who Aces is. Cue an incredibly fucked up, yet exhilarating ride of investigations that leaves both the duo and the reader gasping for air and gathering a list of suspects.
What Àbíké-Íyímídé expertly does, whilst laying out the clues and steps of a good thriller, is to evolve and develop Chiamaka and Devon individually, and as friends. She makes each moment between them feel both endearing and comical, with occasional moments of tension. Their growing fondness of each other constantly feels organic, never moving too fast nor too slow. Leaving the reader giddy that both can see what we, as bystanders, have been able to see about the other this whole time.
“While many readers will reach the main conclusion of who Aces is – because it’s what we have been gearing up for – there are still a plethora of plot twists thrown at you that will leave you spinning.”
Multiple emotions are balanced out well throughout scenes that take place within the school; whilst a specific moment can feel entertaining or amusing, the constant feeling of walking on eggshells simmers beneath the surface. With any friendly hand outstretched to Chiamaka and Devon feeling suspicious, you become as heavily guarded as the duo whilst the plot unfurls.
For many, it’s easy to understand why school never brings comfort or joy, but for the newly formed friends, these feelings are heightened and exacerbated with not just racist microaggressions, but a deliberate threatening presence that goes a step further.
While many readers will reach the main conclusion of who Aces is – because it’s what we have been gearing up for – there are still a plethora of plot twists thrown at you that will leave you spinning. There is a particular point, by which time I was inching towards the end, where a twist is thrown in like a shot put to the face. It takes a particular type of skill to divert your attention as a reader, where you constantly miss signs for certain twists until it is too late, and Àbíké-Íyímídé contains this in abundance.
“Romance is also written exceptionally well, never feeling shoehorned in or under-developed. The romances are organic, tender and heartbreaking.”
I have no reason to not draw this character out, ‘cause he’s a wasteman from the first chapter. If Jamie – Chiamaka’s best friend – was a real person, I am not exaggerating when I say I’d swing for him at any opportunity. I don’t care if he’s rich and his dad can sue me, I will go to jail to make sure my fist connects with his jaw. That is the level of intense emotions that is elicited from readers; whether positive or negative, they are very visceral reactions.
As a bonus, romance is also written exceptionally well, never feeling shoehorned in or under-developed. The romances are organic, tender and heartbreaking. Devon is the type to fall completely, and so when he is hurt it can feel like a gut punch to read. Expertly written, Ace of Spades will also have you grinning widely whilst Chiamaka’s sexuality is slowly discovered. It comes hand in hand with her own comfort with who she is: a young Black woman.
Many debuts are unable to stun and take me out as well as Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s has, so much so that it makes my younger self yearn for her calibre of writing when I was just getting into YA. Her plot construction, character development and atmospheric conclusions make for a heartstopping thriller. I am starving for her next book.
New YA writers really are eating. Lemme know when I can pre-order her second novel.
Ace of Spades is published by Usborne Books.