Title: Ace of Spades
Author: Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
Genre: YA, Mystery, Thriller
Published: June 1st, 2021 (Feiwel and Friends)
Synopsis: An incendiary and utterly compelling thriller with a shocking twist that delves deep into the heart of institutionalized racism, from an exceptional new YA voice.
Welcome to Niveus Private Academy, where money paves the hallways, and the students are never less than perfect. Until now. Because anonymous texter, Aces, is bringing two students’ dark secrets to light.
Talented musician Devon buries himself in rehearsals, but he can’t escape the spotlight when his private photos go public. Head girl Chiamaka isn’t afraid to get what she wants, but soon everyone will know the price she has paid for power.
Someone is out to get them both. Someone who holds all the aces. And they’re planning much more than a high-school game…
Chiamaka Adebayo has been chosen for the prestigious position of Head Girl at Niveus Private Academy, an elite high school. No surprises there, as she is both popular and talented, the Queen Bee of the school. Devon Richards, a talented musician, becoming Senior Prefect on the other hand is quite unexpected as he tends to keep to himself. Both students have high aspirations, with Chi set on Yale and Devon aiming for Juilliard along with the scholarship he desperately needs to be able to afford it. When these two students, who are poles apart socially, become the target of an anonymous texter only known as ‘Aces’, what initially seems to be a case of high school bullying takes a deadlier turn as they seem bent upon destroying not only their reputations, but also their final year of school and any prospects of a successful future.
Ace of Spades was way darker than I anticipated, so definitely pay attention to the content warnings. The author has a style of writing that creates a very atmospheric story and keeps you hooked right until the end. It’s the kind of book that you need to sit back and take a breather after just to process everything that happened. The author certainly didn’t shy away from delving into heavy subjects, mainly institutionalized racism, a very relevant topic in today’s climate and I applaud the author for tackling such an important theme in her debut novel. On a lighter note, an interesting thing was that there wasn’t a very clear setting as far as this story goes, and the author explains at the end why she chose to write it that way. I think that the fact that the lack of setting didn’t even register to me until then proves that it didn’t affect the quality of the story in any way.
The contrast between the two main characters was beautifully portrayed, and a very important part of this book. Their backgrounds couldn’t be more different and this book did an amazing job at showing how racial discrimination in a variety of situations. Devon started out as the typical underdog character who has been happy minding his own business until someone decides to target him for seemingly no reason at all, and his was an easy character to like and feel protective of. I found it really hard to connect to or sympathize with Chi for a large chunk of the book however because she was so invested in maintaining her Queen Bee personality which made her pretty unlikeable. But once they started working together and supporting each other, I really liked how both their characters evolved, especially Chi’s, as we got to know more about their home lives and motivations.
I know this is YA, and the focus tends to remain on the MCs, but for something of this scale, it was absolutely bizarre that the parents were so absent – granted, Devon’s mom probably couldn’t have done much, but Chiamaka’s family was wealthy and could have certainly intervened. The uninformed parents made many plot points rather convenient and it was one thing that annoyed me a lot.
The reveal – it was creepy and shocking – but it was also way over the top. Once I got over the initial shock (I definitely didn’t see it coming), my first thought was how unrealistic it was for so many people to be involved in something like this, much less teenagers. It seems absurd for students to put this much time and effort into this, along with making sure that the duo never caught a hint of anything for nearly 4 years. I really liked how Chi and Devon fought back against it all though, and refused to just go along and let themselves be beaten down.
I think this is a case of the book not really being my type rather anything I didn’t like about it. I haven’t really tried dark academia before this, unless you count A Deadly Education (though I suspect the fantasy aspect in that one is what made it work for me), so I think it’s just the genre that doesn’t appeal to me. Apart from all that though, this was a gripping, fast paced read and I’m looking forward to the author’s future works. While I wasn’t a huge fan of the way the ending played out – it was too quick and chaotic and I still have so many questions about this – the epilogue was such a perfect touch! If this genre is your type, I would definitely recommend this completely binge-worthy thriller!
Have you read this book? Let me know in the comments below!