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62 pages 2 hours read

Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

Ace of Spades

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2021

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Ace of Spades is a 2021 Young Adult novel by British Nigerian author Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé. It is a thriller that follows the struggles and injustices faced by the only two Black students at a prestigious American private high school. Àbíké-Íyímídé wrote the novel while studying at a university in Aberdeen, Scotland, where she was one of the only students of color. When writing the novel, she relied partly on her own experiences to pen a thorough examination of anti-Black racism in education. Ace of Spades was a British Book Award Nominee for Children’s Fiction (2022), an Edgar Award Nominee for Best Young Adult (2022), a Rhode Island Teen Book Award Nominee (2023), a Lincoln Award Nominee (2023), and a Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Young Adult Fiction (2021).

This guide uses the 2021 e-book edition of Ace of Spades, published by Feiwel and Friends.

Content Warning: This book and this guide include discussions of racism, police violence, anti-gay behavior, sexual assault, and suicide. The book uses a racial slur, which this guide obscures.

Plot Summary

Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo are starting their senior year at Niveus Academy, an elite private school where they are the only two Black students. Chiamaka, the most popular girl in school, is appointed Head Prefect at a beginning-of-year assembly. Devon, who plans to attend Juilliard to study music, usually keeps to himself and is very surprised when he is appointed Senior Prefect. Later that day, every student in the school (except Devon) gets a text from an unknown number that is later connected to a racist group called Aces. The text contains a photograph of Devon kissing Scotty, another boy in his grade.

At lunch, Chiamaka believes that her long-time best friend, Jamie Fitzjohn, is about to ask her to be his girlfriend, as the two have been sleeping together for several months. Instead, he tells her that he has a girlfriend named Belle Robinson. Chiamaka has a flashback to several months ago, when she was in a car with Jamie. During this earlier moment, Jamie accidentally hit a female pedestrian before driving away from the scene and swearing Chiamaka to secrecy. Meanwhile, in the present moment, Devon worries that his mother or the boys from his neighborhood will learn that he is gay. He comes from a poor part of town and attends Niveus on a scholarship—unlike Chiamaka, who is wealthy. Aces sends another text exposing Chiamaka’s feelings for Jamie. At a shop, someone slips licorice into Chiamaka’s pocket, and she is accused of shoplifting. Another text from Aces informs the whole school about the incident.

Devon visits Andre Johnson, his secret boyfriend for whom he sometimes deals drugs. Andre, also called Dre, has seen the Aces text about Devon and warns him not to let any other information get out. Aces soon sends everyone at school a sex tape that Devon and Scotty made together. Devon confronts Scotty, who vehemently denies that he is behind the texts. Another Aces text hints at Devon’s relationship with Dre. Dre asks Devon to come over, breaks up with him, and then has some boys who work for him beat Devon up. When Devon regains consciousness, he finds another Black boy taking care of him. The boy introduces himself as Terrell Rosario and says that he and Devon went to middle school together, where they shared their first kiss.

A new Aces text reveals that Jamie and Chiamaka have been romantically and sexually involved. Devon and Chiamaka both find USB sticks in their lockers attached to one particular card from the deck: the ace of spades. Independently, they plug the sticks into school computers and are met with folders of information about each other. Devon sees a folder labeled “Murderer” but does not open it. The data on the files corrupts and disappears after a few minutes. At a prefect meeting, the school principal accuses Chiamaka and Devon of sending out defamatory texts about each other. He strips them both of their prefect titles and gives them detentions. Belle breaks up with Jamie and tells Chiamaka that she wants to be friends. The two girls grow closer and develop romantic feelings for each other. Terrell and Devon kiss after school; Terrell suggests to Devon that the Aces texts might be motivated by racism, since they are only targeting Devon and Chiamaka.

Chiamaka enlists the help of a tech-savvy fellow student to learn more about the USB drives. She and Devon learn that the text blasts are programmed from one of the school computers on Sunday nights. Chiamaka realizes that the text about her stealing candy was programmed before the incident actually took place. Meanwhile, the mysterious smear campaign accelerates as someone puts up posters all over the school that show Chiamaka unconscious at a party and include copies of Devon and Chiamaka’s yearbook photos with the eyes scratched out. Aces sends out yet another text, hinting that Chiamaka is a murderer, and a masked figure chases Chiamaka home and pushes Polaroids through the mail slot; the photos show her in various states of undress.

On Sunday, Devon and Chiamaka sneak into school and accost a masked figure in the computer lab. It is the girl that Jamie hit with his car, but she runs away. Chiamaka realizes that Jamie’s “car accident” was staged, and Devon realizes that the texts are being sent out by the “Ace of Spades Secret Society,” a long-standing racist organization run by legacy students at Niveus. Every 10 years, the school admits two Black students and then destroys their lives in their final year, forcing them to drop out before they graduate. Devon comes out to his mother, who is supportive. Chiamaka confronts Belle, who tearfully explains that Aces has a “tradition” of ousting Black students as a form of “social eugenics.” Dre gets arrested for dealing drugs, and Devon visits him in prison. Devon remembers visiting his father in prison just once, seven years ago. He asks a receptionist to look his father up, but she tells him that his father was on death row and was executed later the same day that Devon visited him seven years ago.

Chiamaka, Devon, and Terrell decide to go to the press about Niveus. Devon posts a tweet about the situation that goes viral. The journalist suggests a live broadcast exposing Niveus and tells the students to attend a school dance the following night; reporters will also attend and film a confrontation. Devon is skeptical but agrees to go along with the plan. Chiamaka goes on stage with Devon and explains Niveus’s actions, as planned. After her speech, she realizes that the journalists have disappeared; they, too, are part of the racist plot. Protestors storm the dance, having rallied around Devon’s tweet. During the chaos, the school burns down, but Devon, Chiamaka, and Terrell escape. The next day, they learn that Jamie and two other students died in the fire. They get in touch with a Black journalist to talk about what happened. In the Epilogue, Devon and Terrell are married, and Chiamaka is a doctor; all of them work to support Black students attending elite schools to prevent the same thing from ever happening again.

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