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Aces Up

Aces Up

3.5 38
by Lauren Barnholdt

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Seventeen-year-old high school senior Shannon Card needs money. And lots of it. She's been admitted to Wellesley, but her dad just lost his job, and somehow she has to come up with a year of tuition herself. But Shannon's dream of making big bucks waitressing at the local casino, the Collosio, disappears faster than a gambler's lucky streak. Her boss is a tyrant,


Seventeen-year-old high school senior Shannon Card needs money. And lots of it. She's been admitted to Wellesley, but her dad just lost his job, and somehow she has to come up with a year of tuition herself. But Shannon's dream of making big bucks waitressing at the local casino, the Collosio, disappears faster than a gambler's lucky streak. Her boss is a tyrant, her coworker is nuts, and her chances of balancing a tray full of drinks while wearing high-heeled shoes are slim to none. Worse, time is running out, and Shannon hasn't made even half the money she'd hoped.
When Shannon receives a mysterious invitation to join Aces Up, a secret network of highly talented college poker players, at first she thinks No way. She has enough to worry about: keeping her job, winning the coveted math scholarship at school, and tutoring her secret crush, Max. But when Shannon musters up the nerve to kiss Max and he doesn't react at all, the allure of Aces Up and its sexy eighteen-year-old leader, Cole, is suddenly too powerful to ignore.
Soon Shannon's caught up in a web of lies and deceit that makes worrying about tuition money or a high school crush seem like kid stuff. Still, when the money's this good, is the fear of getting caught reason enough to fold?
This fun, sexy, recession-proof story is a bubbly summer read with surprising depth—great for fans of Sarah Mlynowski.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Shannon's father has lost his job, which makes attending Wellesley impossible, unless she can earn ,400 for first year's tuition. Shannon is a math whiz so that calculation was easy, but earning the money as a cocktail waitress at the Collosio Casino is more challenging, especially since Shannon is only 17 and using a fake ID to work there. Enter Cole, leader of Aces Up, a clandestine ring of college-age gamblers, who recruits Shannon after reading about a math award she won. Shannon proves to be a poker star, and Cole pressures her into entering the big tournament. Realizing that she might be in trouble, Shannon relies on her sister, a friend, and her crush, Max, to figure out the right thing to do. Readers should be easily swept into Shannon's exhilaration when she first stays up all night playing poker ("I love the feeling of the cards beneath my fingers"), and will likely become invested in her ethical dilemma. A savvy story about how, even with pure intentions, you can still get in over your head. Ages 12–up. (Aug.)
Children's Literature - Heather Robertson Mason
Shannon Card is good at math. Great at math, as a matter of fact. But at the moment she needs money and not talent. Her dad just lost his job and she needs to come up with her first year's tuition for Wellesley College. When her dream of making big bucks as a waitress at a casino (a job she needs to purchase a fake birth certificate to get) turns out to be harder than it looks, she is offered a solution to all her problems. She is invited to join a secret poker society...provided she can learn to play poker, stay under the radar of the casino, keep the secret from her parents and somehow manage to throw the World Series of Poker without getting caught. This book is a classic beach read: a likable heroine, a villain and enough action to keep readers hooked. A closer reading will highlight flaws in the plot, namely why she thinks she is forced to continue with the plan after understanding the consequences, but the novel is still fun and isn't meant to be anything else. Reviewer: Heather Robertson Mason
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—High school senior and math-whiz Shannon Card gets accepted to Wellesley College, but can't afford to attend because her father was recently laid off. She tutors Max, her secret crush, hoping to secure a math scholarship from her school. She also gets a job waitressing at a local casino where she is invited by handsome bad-boy Cole to join a secret group of poker players. He promises her that Aces Up can help her make more than enough money for school. When waitressing proves less lucrative than she'd planned, and her relationship with Max gets complicated, Shannon succumbs to the temptations provided by Aces Up and Cole. As gambling hurts her relationships and grades, Shannon realizes that she is in danger of losing what is important to her and seeks redemption. The plot is strikingly similar to the movie 21, which is referenced in the book. Shannon is a quirky and earnest overachiever, and her account of her adventures is reminiscent of Bridget Jones's Diary. Her narration is peppered with pop-culture references and poker strategy, and her tendency to make lists is used to amusing effect. Her droll style maximizes the humor, which could undermine the serious theme. While Shannon is endearing and genuine, the rest of the characters are poorly developed. In addition to gambling, there is underage drinking and some strong language.—Erin Carrillo, formerly at Alachua County Library District, Gainesville, FL

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.22(w) x 11.04(h) x 0.64(d)
750L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

I will not freak out, I will not freak out, I will not freak out. It is only a dress. A flimsy, totally stretchable piece of fabric. A flimsy, totally stretchable piece of fabric that will not budge over my hips, but still. Not a big deal. In fact, I’m sure things like this happen all the time. I’ll just march out of here, head into the office of my new boss, Adrienne, and calmly explain to her that the uniform they’ve given me just doesn’t fit.

I mean, I indicated on my application that I’m a size eight. And since they have somehow decided to give me a size two uniform, then really, they should be the ones apologizing to me. Isn’t that some sort of sizeism? (Sizeism = like racism, only against people who aren’t a size two or four.) They’ll probably be so nervous I’m going to sue them for discrimination that I’ll get some kind of bonus or something. You know, so that I’ll keep my mouth shut.

I start to pull the dress off, but before I can get out of it, someone knocks on the door to the dressing room in the employee lounge, where I’m huddled with the dress stuck halfway up my hips.

“Who’s in there?” a voice demands. A bossy, nasally, very loud voice. My boss, Adrienne.

“Um, it’s me,” I say. “Shannon.” My voice comes out all strangled, and I clear my throat and try to sound normal. Maybe I just need someone to zip me up? Or I need to lie down on a bed somewhere, like I have to do when my jeans just come out of the dryer. Of course, there’s no bed in here, they wouldn’t put a bed in a dressing room, that would be a little ridiculous. And there’s definitely not enough room to lie down on the floor, but maybe if I angled myself a little better, I could lean back and then—


“Shannon!” I say, louder this time. Maybe the uniform is vanity-sized, and so their two is actually a six. Like they do at the Gap. I give the dress a good yank, and it creeps up a little further over my hips. Hmmm. I give it another tug, this time as hard as I can. Riiiiip. The sound of fabric tearing echoes through the dressing room as the side seam of the dress splits in two. Oops.

“What the hell was that?” More pounding. “There are customers waiting to be served!”

“Um, well,” I say, throwing my sweatshirt over my head and opening the door to the stall. My face is burning with embarrassment, and I’m sure there are two big red splotches on my cheeks. “The thing is,” I tell Adrienne, “I have a problem with my uniform. It doesn’t fit.” I hold up the shredded piece of fabric. “Or, um, it didn’t fit.” I give her a hopeful smile.

“You ripped it?” Adrienne asks, looking incredulous. She reaches out and fingers the material.

“Well, not on purpose, I would never do something like that on purpose.” She looks at me blankly. “I thought it was vanity sized,” I explain, still trying to stay positive.

“You tried to shove yourself into it, and you split it?”

“Well, not shove, exactly, it was more like . . . wedge.” Adrienne is a few years older than me, and very, very scary. She has short black hair with thick bangs, and a dark red mouth. She wears lots of eyeliner and I’m pretty sure her boobs are fake. At my interview last week, when she asked me why I wanted this job, I told her I loved interacting with people, and she laughed, like she thought I was joking. I totally wasn’t, but I did not want Adrienne to hate me and/or think I was going to cause any kind of trouble, so I laughed, too.

If she finds out I’m only seventeen, I will be fired immediately. You have to be twenty-one to work as a cocktail waitress at the Collosio Casino, but I really, really need this job. My dad got fired from his job four months ago, and if I don’t make my own money, there’s no way I’ll be able to go to Wellesley in the fall. And since I’ve already been accepted early admission, which means I’m not allowed to apply anywhere else, this is a bit of a problem. (I’m calling it a “bit of a problem” so that I don’t freak myself out too much. The truth is it’s a “bit of a problem” that has the potential to turn into a “really bad disaster.” No money for Wellesley = no college.) So I bought a fake ID from this guy named Chris Harmon, who’s in my fifth- period study hall, and here I am. Besides, I’ll be twenty-one soon. Well. In, like, four years.

“It was too small,” I say, holding the dress up in front of me, as if to demonstrate its too-small state. Adrienne’s making me nervous, and the lights overhead are beating down on me. I brush my long brown hair out of my face and hope I don’t start to sweat. “I am so, so sorry. I thought I marked down on my application that I’m a size eight, but apparently it ended up that—”

Adrienne sighs and rubs her temples, then looks at me like I’m a child she’s babysitting. She sets her pen down on her clipboard. “What time is it, Shannon?”

Um, is this a trick question? “Five o’clock?” I try.

“Right. And what happens at five o’clock?”

“I start work?”

“Right. And if you come into work not ready to start working, then what happens at five o’clock?”

“Um, I don’t start working?”


“I’m sorry,” I say again. “But I marked down on the application you gave me that I’m a size—”

Adrienne holds up a hand. “Look,” she says, her blue eyes narrowing. She smells like some kind of violet perfume. “Can you hang or not? Because there are a lot of girls who would kill for this job.” I’m not sure what “Can you hang?” means, but I have a feeling it’s to be answered in the affirmative and does not involve having a uniform situation on day one. Also, I’m very wary now that she’s said “There are a lot of girls who would kill for this job.” That’s what they kept telling Anne Hathaway’s character in the movie The Devil Wears Prada. And things did not go so well for her.

“Yes,” I say, squaring my shoulders and trying to look shocked, as if I can’t believe she’s asked such an insane question. I roll my eyes. “Of course. Of course I can hang.” For ten dollars an hour plus tips, I can definitely hang. One hundred percent hanging.

“Then go get another uniform from the uniform closet,” Adrienne says, pointing toward a door on the other side of the room. She snatches the ruined uniform out of my hands. “This one will have to come out of your paycheck. And then get back here and we’ll get you started on your training.” She waves her hand and her black-tipped acrylic fingernails, dismissing me.

Fifteen minutes later, I’m in my new uniform (fits, but makes me look like a sausage—stretchy black fabric, a gathered waist, and a built-in bra that pushes your boobs together is not a good look for anyone), standing in the bar area with Mackenzie.

Mackenzie is the waitress who’s training me. She looks like a Miss Hawaiian Tropic and definitely does not have a problem zipping up her uniform.

“Basically the tips are all you want to worry about,” she’s saying. “You want to take as many drink orders as possible, and get the drinks out as fast as possible.”

She flips her long blond hair over her shoulder. I’m shadowing her, which, as far as I can tell, basically means I’m going to follow her around the casino all night, watching what she does. For this, I will earn my ten dollars an hour, with no tips.

But whatevs. I’m all about the big picture. Once I get the hang of it, I’ll be out on my own, and then I’m sure I’ll be making tons.

“Right,” I say. I work on practicing what I learned from The Secret, that book that says whatever you think will actually become your reality, and conjure up an image of myself at Wellesley, walking on campus with a bag full of newly purchased schoolbooks in one hand and a grande peppermint latte in the other. Feeling cheered by my mental picture, I pull a tiny gray notebook out of my pocket and write, “as many drinks as possible, make them come out fast.”

Meet the Author

Lauren Barnholdt is the author of many books for teens and tweens, including Two-Way Street and The Secret Identity of Devon Delaney. She lives in Boston with her husband. Visit her Web site at www.laurenbarnholdt.com and say hello.

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Aces Up 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
At the beginning i must say, i was in love with this book. the whole time i just wanted shannon to end up with Cole and forget about max, but that didn't happen for awhie in the book and by the time it did their relationship quickly ended. the book was good. i felt like it was the book version of the movie 21 but with slightly different characters. overall i liked it, but i wouldnt buy it if i could do it over again. hope you found this helpful :)
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thebookscoop More than 1 year ago
This is my first Barnholdt and I can definitely say that it won't be my last. I enjoyed this book greatly and would definitely recommend it to fans of contemporary YA romances or just fans of Barnholdt. She weaved a great story with likable characters and an interesting take on the poker world. Now, don't go expecting something deep and thought provoking when you start this book. This story is all light, breezy and totally cute.
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