ARC Review: Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

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…

  • Title: Ace of Spades
  • Author: Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
  • Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
  • Genre: LGBTQ, Thriller, Dark Academia, Contemporary
  • Age Range: YA
  • Trigger warnings: 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, Police encounter/involvement, Incarceration, Mentions of death penalty, Revenge porn 
  • Rating:  ★★★★★

Like so many others, shows like Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars were a formative part of my adolescence — there’s something so captivating, fascinating and terrifying when the most popular, most idolized people in school get their lives turned upside down, and their secrets revealed. I remember growing up and idolizing girls like Blair Waldorf and Spencer Hastings — preppy white girls who ruled their world with an iron fist, who constantly strove to impress their parents and everyone around them, and never looked anything like me. I know countless other people of color who felt the same way, and so you can only imagine my excitement when I heard about Ace of Spades

I first heard about Ace of Spades a year ago, and I have such a vivid memory of texting my friend Cindi about a “Gossip Girl meets Get Out” dark academia book coming out in 2021. The more I heard about it, the more excited I was. But it was this drawing & caption, that shot it to the very top of my anticipated releases. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Blair Waldorf, and how Blair & Dan’s dynamic is one of my favorite things about the series. The snarkiness, the rivalry, them working together to protect their loved ones despite their initial disdain for one another — it’s just perfect. And so it’s no surprise how much I loved Chiamaka and Devon’s dynamic, as well as themselves.

Ace of Spades is filled with twists and turns, and I was left with my mouth open on multiple occasions, whether that was from horror or shock. Àbíké-Íyímídé is truly a genius, and has woven topics such as generational wealth, social capital, incarceration, anti-Black racism, homophobia, and intersectionality into this phenomenal tale. Ace of Spades is what dark academia should be at it’s very core: an exploration of academia, and how much of a role white supremacy, microaggressions and systemic oppression play in our everyday life. 

As Chiamaka struggles with maintaining her spot as Niveus’ most popular girl, talented musician Devon’s simply trying to stay under the radar, and make it out alive. After all, they’re in their senior year — how difficult could it be? Quite difficult, it turns out, when they suddenly find themselves targeted by Aces. Whoever Aces is, they’re trying to make Chiamaka and Devon’s lives a living hell by sharing some of their deepest secrets. It’s up to Chiamaka and Devon to team up, and figure out who is behind all of this, before it’s too late. 

Ace of Spades is told in alternating POVs; one following Chiamaka, and one following Devon. In the realm of the high school social hierarchy, Chiamaka and Devon are as different as two people can be, making them the perfect foil for one another, and allowing us to truly see the true effect Aces has on their lives. First, we have seemingly perfect Chiamaka, whose parents are rich, and her only “flaw” is her best friend’s lack of interest in her, and can only truly lose two things — her perfect academic record and her social standing. Then, we have scholarship kid Devon, whose only friend is Jack and the music teacher at school. His one ticket to a better life for him and his family is dependent on his acceptance to Julliard. Àbíké-Íyímídé has crafted such fascinating characters, and I found myself really rooting for Chiamaka and Devon very early on. 

If nothing else, Ace of Spades is gripping, powerful, terrifying, and intriguing. I was hooked from the first page, curious to know who was behind Aces, why they were doing so, why they were targeting Chiamaka and Devon specifically, and what would happen next. But what truly captivated me was the way Ace of Spades calls out white supremacy in academia. Every aspect of Chiamaka and Devon’s school lives were controlled by rules that supported their white peers, whether spoken or inferred. Rules about their hairstyle, social norms, what was – or wasn’t – acceptable, and conversations about how their rich white counterparts had it much easier. 

There were moments where I had to put the book down, pace around my room, process, and then return. While I’m not much of a thriller reader, Ace of Spades may have changed that forever. Everything unraveled slowly, so slowly that you might not even realize it at the time, until the very end, where I was left staring at a mess and just being in shock. 

Àbíké-Íyímídé’s writing is immersive, rich and descriptive, leaving readers hooked onto every page. So much so that I remember my hands were vividly shaking once I had finished Ace of Spades, and was trying desperately to calm myself down for a 1:30 pm meeting with my boss. I also must give a honorary shoutout to the epilogue, because I am still thinking about it, weeks later after finishing my ARC. Ace of Spades truly goes out with a bang, one last adrenaline rush, that ensures that you’ll be thinking about it forever. 

Ace of Spades is one of the most clever, twisted, shocking and genius books I’ve ever read, and I cannot wait for its June release! Many thanks to Netgalley and Macmillan Children’s/Feiwel and Friends for providing me with an eARC.

Ace of Spades: Goodreads | TheStoryGraph | Bookshop | IndieBound

Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé, 22, is a writer from South London who has dreamt of writing books about Black kids saving (or destroying) the world all her life. Her debut novel ACE OF SPADES is an unputdownable thriller that delves deep into the heart of institutionalized racism. Billed as ‘Get Out meets Gossip Girl with a shocking twist’, gal-dem has called it ‘one of 2021’s biggest books’.

Àbíké-Íyímídé describes the novel as “a love letter to queer Black teenagers who feel powerless and alone finally finding their voices. I hope readers see that Black people belong in stories like Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars, and that above everything else we deserve happy endings.”

The novel was acquired by Usborne Publishing in 2018 and then pre-empted by Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group US for a seven figure deal in early 2020. ACE OF SPADES will publish simultaneously in the UK and US in June 2021.  

Àbíké-Íyímídé established and runs a mentorship scheme for unagented writers of colour, helping them on their journey to get published. She has also written for NME, The Bookseller, Readers Digest and gal-dem, and currently studies English Literature at a university in the Scottish Highlands.

Follow Faridah: Website | Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter

14 thoughts on “ARC Review: Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

  1. I read this book too and couldn’t put it down! It’s funny to me that you mentioned you had to pace–I did the same thing with this book! Great review!


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