“I’ve felt alone a lot in this world., filled with people and faces that don’t look like me” (Abike-Iyimide 406).
“Dreaming is dangerous. But I allow myself to this time. I think we deserve a happy ending” (Abike-Iyimide 408).
“To me, [Henrietta Lacks] and all the other spirits broken by this world and its systems are the reason I get up and do this every day” (Abike-Iyimide 414).
Scrolling through Twitter one morning two weeks ago, I saw a tweet celebrating Ace of Spades book birthday.
The image in the tweet intrigued me–I mean who doesn’t love an awesome cake? But what she tweeted about her book made me head over to B&N to order a copy for my classroom library. “You can pick up this book about two queer Black kids, pitched as Get Out meets Gossip Girl, here!”
Yes, this book is a thriller in the vein of both Gossip Girl and Get Out, but it’s also so much more. The book explores sexuality, gender, class, race, and education. And It focuses on agency and whose voice gets to be heard and why those voices get to be heard. I suppose putting those sentences in a blurb about the book won’t sell books or even get teens to pick up the book.
The genius of this book is that it does all of these things at the same time. It is engaging, entertaining, fast paced, and unputdownable. This 400+ page book could very easily be a one-sitting read–it’s that good! While it’s engaging the reader, it’s also making them think–I hope–about social justice.
The novel focuses on Chiamaka and Devon, two African-American students going to an elite private school, Niveus Private Academy. It is the start of their senior year of high school. Chiamaka and Von do not travel in the same circles. Chiamaka is a straight A student and Queen Bee, and Devon is working hard at his music trying to get into Julliard. They both have dreams. They both have secrets. Von does not like Chi, and Chi probably doesn’t even know that Von exists. That is until Aces forces them together to fight for their reputation, education, and future–not to mention their lives.
The suspense begins in the novel when Aces starts texting Chi and Von’s secrets out to the entire student body. In Von’s case, his secret is that he’s gay. This information ends up back in his neighborhood and has serious consequences for him. He loses friends, he loses his boyfriend, and he’s afraid that if his mom finds out, he’ll lose her too. Chi’s secret could put her in jail.
It’s evident to the reader from the beginning that Chi and Von are being targeted because they are the only Black students at Niveus. It was frustrating reading the beginning section of the book because the reason that Aces was going after them was really clear to the reader. When Terrell mentions this idea to Von, he denies it. I literally said out loud, “C’mon Von, wake up! Look at what’s happening! How can you not see Terrell is right?” Once he does realize they’re being targeted because of their race, Chi and Von end up racing against Aces to save themselves. Luckily, Chi’s family is wealthy and she has plenty of money and resources at her disposal to work to find out who is behind the plot to destroy them and stop Aces.
It is through Chi and Von that Abike-Iyimide explores issues of class in the novel. Devon is a scholarship student. His mother works multiple jobs to try to keep a roof over their head and food on the table. Von sells drugs to help support the family. On the one hand the reader wants to hate Von for this action, but on the other hand, the reader is able to understand why he’s doing what he’s doing and feels sympathy for him. While Chi has a closet full of designer clothes and Jimmy Choo shoes, Von wears them same pair of Vans until they fall apart. He talks about his mom buying him sneakers a few sizes too big when he was little so he could wear them for the whole year. In one scene, Chi and Von get in Chi’s car, and she asks him to drive. He says no. She’s confused as to why he won’t drive, and Von reveals that he doesn’t have a driver’s license. This is no shock for the reader. Why would Von have a license if he doesn’t have money for a car? This concept is completely foreign to Chi.
While I love that I can put a thriller with Black LGBTQ+ characters in my classroom library, I’m even more excited that I can put a book that explores classism in a non-stereotypical way on the shelves of my classroom library.
The isolation that both teens feel regardless of class is something that I know will connect with my students. The fact that Chi and Von are able to overcome adversity and find success AND people they love is hopeful, and an important message to give to students.