Review: Ace of Spades

4 stars

THE PLOT: Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé is a young-adult thriller about black teenagers at an elite school. At the start of their senior year both Chiamaka and Devon are focussed on their futures. Chiamaka is the most popular girl at Niveus Academy; she’s rich, smart and determined to get into Yale. Meanwhile Devon doesn’t have any friends, preferring to focus on music so he can leave his poor neighbourhood behind. But Chiamaka and Devon are thrown together when a mysterious figure called ‘Aces’ starts messaging the student body their secrets. As they wonder why Aces hates on them the most, they realise the one thing they have in common is their skin colour…

RATING: This thoroughly entertaining book gets four stars from me. It’s been called Gossip Girl meets Get Out, and it’s a fresh take on the traditional “privileged high-school” novel. This twisting tale kept me guessing as I wondered about the identity of ‘Aces’ – the mysterious figure sending secret messages across the school. Yet it’s more than a whodunnit. It touches on sexuality, with several LBGT romance subplots, drug use in underprivileged neighbourhoods, and the unfair justice system for black people in the United States. It’s a rounded, multi-layered narrative, and I’ll be sure to pick up the author’s other novels.

GOOD BITS: This book is all about plot. Although it’s almost 500 pages, it doesn’t seem so long because it’s very fast-paced. The short chapters and moreish twists will make you want to devour it. I also liked the characters and identified with Chiamaka in particular. As a former private school girl (hey, Ja’mie!), I understood her drive to succeed and admired her ruthless ambition. At first, I was worried that she would just be the ‘Queen Bee’ stereotype dressed-up in black face, but I enjoyed how the nuances of her character emerged as the novel progressed.

NOT SO GOOD BITS: This might sound harsh but I don’t think the writing style was particularly accomplished or original. It suited the YA genre, but there was a lot of exposition and repetition at the start. It felt like the characters told us of their goals about ten thousand times, and were over-explaining their thoughts. Although the dialogue was very natural, there wasn’t much description and I felt the settings could’ve been used more. As the author is so young, I do think her style will develop over time and I hope she pushes herself and takes risks with her prose.

OVERALL: This book is true YA and, if you like the genre, you have to get a copy. It mixes the drama of high-school romance with a high-stakes thriller, leaving you addicted to its twists and turns. While it didn’t absolutely blow me away in terms of style, it was a fun read and many others have given this book five stars. I’d recommend it to lovers of Angie Thomas and Brittany Morris and, of course, Gossip Girl.

Thank you to the Tandem Collective and DoubleDay Books UK for my #gifted copy as part of the Ace of Spades readalong.