Ace of Spades Book Review

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Joy Olugboyega

Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé went viral last year after score a seven-figure book contract at 21 years old. It was this title that brought her image through my timeline and made me curious about her story – not just the story that would make her an overnight millionaire, but her history. I felt an inexplicable magnetism towards Faridah, an instinct that solidified once I started following her on Instagram and found out that she, like me, is a tea fanatic (her grip is @faridahlikestea) and that simple connection blossomed to discover many more. She is remarkably not the social media stereotype of what I would expect from a Gen Z author who has just signed a major contract to publish her first novel. She is quite shy, even mysterious. She doesn’t dump her whole life on various apps and gamble her existence for engagement – so as not to judge anyone who might, I just observed her as a deviation from what I would have expected from someone. ‘one of his age.

And so, of course, I had to know everything.

I received a copy of his first novel YA, Ace of Spades (published by Macmillan June 1 and read it in a single weekend, so energized by the velocity of the plot that I quickly had to find someone else to share it with. I insist on telling everyone that they should read it. The book was presented as a Get out meets Gossip Girl, and to be frank, that sells short. The story does, however, contain elements of both of these pop culture phenomena. It features the two lonely black students who attend Niveus Academy and are subjected to a level of sabotage and cruelty that is both terrifying and, though some might assume satirical, quite grounded in reality. I guarantee that not everyone who reads it will be sorry and I start to sweat even now remembering how my heart pounded as I read desperately trying to figure out where the tale would end.

Faridah and I log in – as so many people do now – on Zoom (with technical difficulty) at night on time because she’s a night owl. She lives at her home in London, where she is doing a virtual apprenticeship for her final year of college, the place that ended up being an unexpected catalyst for her creativity in writing. Ace of Spades. His book, like many others that have been published in recent years, places the subject of race relations in the genre of horror. This is not simply a warning of institutionalized racism, but in fact a visceral representation of the acute danger that people of color in white spaces see as the norm. I asked her almost immediately what she thought of the relationship between the anti-black and the so-called prestigious institutions. “I think that many of these institutions, whether it is a university or a high school, they are often of prestige because they have a story that’s rooted in a kind of black subjugation, ”she says. “It’s pretty interesting how they all basically hide what you’ve been doing. Many of them have derived their wealth and prestige from what they have done in the past.

Faridah is a Muslim and the daughter of Nigerian immigrants. She grew up in South London surrounded by Caribbean and African immigrants like her, but everything changed when she made the decision to go to a university in Scotland, where she was suddenly seen as a minority. Because of her religion, she does not drink alcohol, and she found herself on the fringes of the social scene with so much activity around alcohol. To combat some of her loneliness, she began to watch the frenzy Gossip Girl, and shortly after, Ace of Spades was born.

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Still reeling from the drastic move from London to Scotland, Faridah began to observe outright micro-attacks and assaults for the first time in her life. “It was a huge culture shock that I was going through,” she says. “A guy actually leaned against me in a bookstore. He was just touching my hair. I haven’t experienced that in my life because of where I come from in London, everyone looks like me,” she recalls. “I feel so sad for the people who have to mature in this type of environment.” People love her characters, Chiamaka and Devon, the two narrators of Ace of Spades who represent the entire black population in Niveus – a fictional academy that is both nowhere and everywhere. People like me too. This type of othering engenders a self-esteem that makes buzzing self-esteem concepts like body positivity or assertions a challenge in adulthood. “The black girl is so easy for me to understand,” says Faridah as he wrote Chiamaka, “because there is so much, I guess, self-hatred that can happen because of the way the world keeps going on you. say you’re not good enough. ”

What I immediately notice about the character of Chiamaka is that she is, well, a bad girl, a role that has been played to death by famous white women throughout history but hardly crosses over. never the invisible racial barrier. Faridah also has thoughts on this: “Sometimes I get criticism and some people really like it. And then some people say to themselves, “She’s the worst human being ever!” But I think people are going to criticize black girls by nature already, because we’re not considered acceptable enough for them anyway. In order not to apologize to yourself and try to make yourself like white people, you will already be pushing the limits. I think, especially with black girls, we often have to reduce ourselves to smaller versions of ourselves and Chiamaka does that, but at the same time she kind of stands out so that she can win the same game as white girls. win, but she knows she has to work harder. So I think it’s a bit drastic. Radical indeed. I found Chiamaka to be a likable character, in the same way people have come to understand classic villains like Blair Waldorf or Maleficent. She is simply misunderstood and reacts to her environment based on survival. She did not create the brutal systems in which she operates, but she has to go through them somehow.

In order not to apologize to yourself and try to make yourself like white people, you will already be pushing the limits.

Understanding the complexity of the characters in a non-binary way is important in a book where there is only one real enemy that might never be defeated anyway: racism. And because of that, Faridah is able to give her characters the chance to explore their identities, whatever that means to them. “I think having been brought up as a black Muslim and having so many intersections in my identity, these intersections being kind of ignored or erased by other people, so I’m pretty sensitive. I know how important it is to recognize intersectionality and show us a range of experiences, if that’s what you’re going through.

Faridah brings this sensitivity to her art and her characters. She writes about homosexuality and stress in a way that can only be done by someone with an extreme degree of empathy. But, she says, there are challenges that come with it. “I think a lot of us are doing well but are depressed because we have to be tough to survive,” she explains. “It’s so hard to take a step back and just breathe as a black person. Usually. I think a lot of us burn out later in life, a lot faster than our white counterparts. “Don’t even realize it because we’ve been told you have to constantly work ten times harder. Really, things do catch up with you eventually. And you don’t know you’ve been depressed for years.”

Beyond being empathetic, Faridah is thoughtful, resilient and vulnerable, a true Libra. And she is on the verge of becoming a literary celebrity. YA novels often reach the widest audience and although the so-called racial calculus of 2020 may have somewhat prepared audiences for Ace of Spades, I’m pretty sure most people aren’t ready. But Faridah herself is ready to grab attention, though she’s hesitant to take on the responsibility of a “role model,” especially after seeing how the internet loves to lift and demolish their favorites. But Faridah got over a lot to be able to write this story – and the second book she was hired by Macmillan for – while juggling her full-time studies.

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I ask Faridah if getting a million dollar book ever tempted her to quit school altogether. She laughs: “My parents, they’re pretty strict. So it is not an option in my family not to have a diploma. In fact, my mother, the first thing she said to me, when I told her about my contract with a book, she said to me: “but you stay in school, don’t you? ? “

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