Reading Faridah Àbíké – Íyímídé’s debut novel Ace of Spades felt like redemption. Redemption for all of the jokes about the black people dying first in horror films. Redemption for every black character portrayed in a fictional work whose sole purpose is to amplify the life of their white best friend. Redemption for every thriller that simply hop skips and jumps over any ounce of diversity. It felt like the first time I watched ‘Get Out’ or ‘Us’ and saw the capabilities of black people being portrayed in the genre of mainstream horror. So firstly, thank you Faridah. You did that!
We meet our protagonists Chiamaka and Devon somewhere in the Western world (I’m keen to set this terrifying tale in the USA, but perhaps that’s me trying a little too hard to convince myself this could never happen in the UK…. never say never). On the surface they may seem like your regular ‘opposites attract’ ‘chalk and cheese’ duo but there is so much more to them than that. Devon is a painfully shy teenage boy full of angst and anxiety. Nothing new here? Except he’s also a supremely gifted musician who is presumably exhausted from spending his life code switching in an attempt to fit in to both his all black underprivileged neighbourhood and his all white super privileged high school, Niveus. Did I also mention that Devon is gay? And as liberal and totally progressive as his school seems on the surface, for Devon his sexuality is just another thing that stops him from being invisible.
Chiamaka can only be described as a Queen Bee, i’m talking Regina George levels. She’s got the school’s hierarchy on lock, in fact she practically invented it and is ready to graduate with flying colours to a top tier university. But she’s not your usual blonde bombshell HBIC (head bitch in charge) she is a beautiful dark skinned babe. As her facade slowly starts to chip away we realise she has insecurities and worries like the rest of us despite her mansion and bottomless wardrobe. I won’t say much more about this mega-babe but trust me, you’re gonna love her one-liners.
I couldn’t help thinking throughout this roller-coaster of a read that teenage me would have absolutely loved everything about this book. I would have been diving under the covers to get lost in the world of Niveus High School. Faridah has captured the essence of teenage hood perfectly. Feeling like every decision you make will change the course of your life forever. The utter despair and destruction caused by seemingly petty gossip. And the mind games. Oh the mind games, how I do not miss thee.
Fairdah states in the foreword of Ace Of Spades that she was inspired to write her debut novel after binge watching episodes of Gossip Girl and whilst she loved watching the drama unfold she was left yearning for a similar story but with people that looked like her. So that is what she did. I cannot underplay how refreshing it feels to feel seen by this kind of story.
As thrilling and at times terrifying as this book is, there is something beautiful about reading a story about young black people that isn’t laden with bags and bags of trauma. Yes, Devon and Chiamaka are up against it but they are also resourceful and smart and we get the feeling that whether they know it or not they are destined for greatness.
This novel is full of heart, ambition, plot twists and a good amount of steamy passion that will have you craving that unfiltered capacity for excitement you once had as a teenager. I definitely recommend picking up a copy of Ace of Spades for your nieces, nephews, siblings or better still yourself and your bestie if you fancy a bit of escapism.
Today I will award Ace of Spades 3.5 worms out of 5!