Stacey Addo | Arts and Entertainment Editor
"Their Vicious Games", Joelle Wellington/Goodreads/2023
Joelle Wellington’s debut book, "Their Vicious Games" follows a black teenager named Adina Walker who’s been on a scholarship at Edgewater Academy – a prestigious school with rich upper-class students in New England. She’s constantly working to try to be perfect until eventually, she gets into a fight that results in her getting black-listed from her dream school, Yale, along with every other college. Her only chance at regaining her future is to join the Finish, a high-stakes competition where twelve young women who show "exceptional promise" are selected to compete in three mystery events entitled the Ride, the Raid, and the Royale. The winner will be taken into the Remington family, whose wealth and power can grant the winner opportunities they could’ve never imagined. But once Adina makes it to the Finish, she realizes that the competition isn’t what she thought it would be, and that the stakes are quite literally life or death.
What made this book so interesting, is how you’re immediately introduced to the high stakes in Adina’s life. The story examines the ideas of race and elitism and constantly asks its characters what they’re willing to do for success. Adina is an average teenager surrounded by abnormal wealth, and the way she handles this is what makes the story interesting and her character likable.
This book has been compared to "Squid Games", and "Ace of Spades" by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé with aspects of "The Bachelor". While I believe these descriptions are accurate, what differentiates this book from the first two titles is what I like about it. In "Squid Games", all of the players are more or less on a level playing field in the fact that they are all struggling in some way making them desperate for money. In "Ace of Spades", the main characters are in a similar situation as Adina (they go to a wealthy school and are looking to use the opportunity to build themselves up in the world). But they aren’t fully aware of the disadvantage they are at or the people that are working against them until the end. Adina, however, is always aware of how unfair her situation is and recognizes the powers at play and because of this, her character feels realistic. She’s not passive but we still watch her experience fear, regret, and hopelessness, while still having it in her to fight back.
There were moments where I felt like the book was slow and it wasn't as thrilling as I expected it to be going into it, but the premise was interesting, and the characters were compelling. Overall, I would rate the book a 4 out of 5 stars. I think it's a great debut for Wellington and I’m excited to see what she writes in the future!