On one of the recent past Fridays, I stepped out when the sun decorated the skies with all of its splendour and beauty and took a trip down the Cornell Drive to send some items through the United States Post Office in Albuquerque to the third-largest city in Ohio, Cincinnati.
As I maneuvered my way through the numerous hoodlums in the hood looking in wonderment at the well-designed layout and aesthetically-structured buildings, I stumbled upon a treasure trove of a bookstore that got me enthralled by the scenery and atmospheric vitamins therein.
My fascination with books immobilises me anytime I see them, especially in large quantities. I was carrying loads of clothes so I hurriedly went to do my transaction at the post office and walked back straight to the bookstore. I decided to stop by and make some selections that would give me the best value for the few dollars I had to spend. So, I lingered for a while as I rummaged through the thousands of books to make my careful selections. The bookstore is manned by an old woman who gave her name as Laura. From every indication, Laura is a diligent woman – who is young at heart, judging from the energy with which she was organising her books and the dexterity with which she arranged them.
I struck up a conversation with her and realised behind that the elderly-looking woman is an activist who’s very passionate about her community and books. She stated that the shop has more than fifty years of existence, and pulled me to one side to see the beautiful design made to commemorate the almost-six decades of providing a platform that seeks to change attitudes and internal feelings of the community. Sure, that is what books do. They provide education.
Books in that bookstore have always been sold for far less than their retail price. Also, they have a great collection of used books which go for a dollar or less – sometimes even for free. The old woman also got fascinated about my passion for books, because I kept telling her the value of each book I saw in there. I told her when the book was released, its author and attempted to summarise it for her. And that aroused in her a great interest which led her to ask how come I have all this information about books.
I recounted to her the great number of years I spent in shaping my community through literary activism. I told her about Success Book Club – the most active book club in Ghana, which was formed with the vision of eradicating illiteracy completely from our midst and also to give the youth a platform to uplift and develop themselves through reading. I showed her our social media handles, and that really got her enthralled.
She was also concerned about the paucity of reading among the youth now. She told me not many students come around the bookshop anymore, which is so surprising to her. In her time, she stated, reading was taken up religiously by the youth. I got very interested in the conversation because in Ghana we face a similar situation, if not worse. Ghana is sick of the disease called National Reading Deficiency Syndrome as declared by Dr. Doris Yaa Dartey, a former Board member of the Graphic Communications Group Limited.
Anytime the discussion of reading among the youth comes up, my mind goes straight to the interaction I had with the former Secretary-General of the Pan-African Writers Association, the late Prof. Atukwei Okai. I will always remember that impactful moment as long as the cords of memory allow. I was invited to speak to a group of schoolchildren on the importance of reading in their lives, and decided to use Kwame Nkrumah as a focal point because the day coincided with celebrations for the formation of the Organisation of African Unity, now African Union.
I used him because apart from being a politician par excellence, his personal life is a testament to how far one can go through reading. He lived for reading, and read. After my speech, the revered professor gave me a standing ovation and stressed the fact that we have to inculcate strongly in the young ones a profound reading spirit. This, he believed would give the children a future. He stated: “What we need to understand in this country is that the future of a child is the future of the country. A strong advocacy for reading as a great value to education would lift the nation’s comprehensive quality to flourish and grow”.
After a great conversation with Laura, I left the bookshop with about five books which included Bill Clinton’s My Life, Dan Brown’s Angel and Demons, John Grisham’s The Testament, Ronald W. Clark’s Einstein, The Life and Times and Ace of Spades by the British Avid Tea-Drinker, Farida Àbíké-íyímídé – and this is the book I am reviewing this week. And as usual our writer, the Pre-law Youtuber, model and Human Rights Advocate who lives in Manhattan, Kaya Hamza, will do the review for us.
In Farida Àbíké-íyímídé’s debut novel ‘Ace of Spades’, two Black students go face to face with an unforeseen enemy at their elite, predominantly-white school. The story begins with Chiamaka Adebayo, and Devon Richards being named school prefects, a position they both believe will further their chances of getting into their dream colleges. In high spirits, Chiamaka goes to meet up with her best friend, Jaime Fitzjohn. Chiamaka has been in love with Jaime for a very long time and hopes that he will finally confess the feelings she believes he has for her.
So far, her day could not have been better. However, she is in for the shock of her life when she realizes that Jaime has not called her to confess his feelings for her but to confess his feelings for another girl! Heartbroken, she goes home only to find that details of her encounter (as well as her supposed feelings for Jaime) have been sent out to the whole school. Devon, on the other hand. starts the day off badly as intimate pictures of him and an ex are leaked. He endures snickers and curious glances from the student body throughout the day. What our main characters think to be a one-time event gets worse.
What starts out as a cruel prank turns into something more sinister as the story progresses. Private details, such as addresses and more compromising photos, are being sent out via mass text. These events have unfortunate consequences for the two, as Chiamaka who manages the science cupboards has her privileges revoked; and both her and Devon are later suspended as prefects. As the cruelty continues, Chiamaka and Devon soon realise that they are the only two in the school being targetted.
Àbíké-íyímídé’s book discusses elements of institutionalised racism while putting two people of colour from very different backgrounds at the forefront. For example, Chiamaka and Devon do not realise that what they are facing is racism until Devon tells Terrell, his mysterious friend outside school, about the strange happenings – to which Terrell asks if Chiamaka is also Black. This opens a new perspective to how children of colour who have grown up in predominantly white communities perceive race.
Another topic the book discusses is affirmative action, which I believe is very important today when many more people of colour are going into professional fields and graduate schools. When Devon confronts his best friend Jack, after discovering Jack is a part of Ace, Jack justifies his actions by stating that due to affirmative action Devon will have more opportunities than he ever will after high school; whereas he (Jack) will have to work twice as hard.
Ace of Spades has supporting characters which one has to address as well. Although Chiamaka and Devon’s friends are all part of ‘Ace’, one character to take note of is Jaime. Although he is a huge part of the society antagonising Chiamaka, one cannot deny his feelings for her. However, as this conflicts with his racist views he comes across as someone who is confused at times. This is shown at the climax of the book when Chiamaka taunts him; saying that despite his faults, he enjoyed every bit of what went down between them. This angers him and he attempts to choke her, but Chiamaka manages to get away. Terrell is another character that deserves a mention. Despite his betrayal, he amends his faults by coming clean to Devon and helping out our main duo.
I believe that most of the topics which ‘Ace of Spades’ delves into are not things that the average Ghanaian individual born and raised in Ghana would find relatable. However, for Ghanaians born outside the country or born in Ghana but raised outside, it is an entirely different story. As conversations regarding racism abroad have increased in the past year among the Ghanaian online community living in Ghana and outside (especially after the death of George Floyd in May 2020), I believe this book helps one gain some insight into what it is like to be a minority with the system stacked against them.
This book has the most trigger-warnings I have ever seen (as it should), but it is so beautifully written that sometimes the reader feels at one with the main characters – or is a part of the story, watching it all unfold. It is almost like being a Fate and watching what you have woven come true. I believe it is worth the read. Àbíké-Íyímídé’s has created an unforgettable masterpiece.
NB: The writer is a youth-activist and a student of knowledge.