By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are partially responsible for the "downfall of the Black man."
But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for "anti-white discrimination."
Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?
Author: Brittney Morris | Publisher: Simon Pulse
Rating: 5 / 5
Okay, everyone. I’m going to need you to go out and buy SLAY as soon as it’s published on September 24. Because Brittney Morris has written one hell of a book!
Let me say that I searched high and low for a review copy of SLAY. I first heard about it at BookCon, where Morris was on a panel I attended. She explained that SLAY is about a teenage girl who’s secretly built an entire RPG video game that serves as a Black culture utopia, with playing cards that integrate Black culture including the Michael Jackson card that raises Thriller zombies, the Purple Haze card, etc. But then someone is killed in real life because of the game, and the national attention causes people to accuse it — and her — of reverse racism. Then she has to fight to protect her world. Oh, also, Morris wrote this book in like two weeks or something ridiculous like that, for a writing competition. No big.
I immediately wanted to read it. The next day, they were giving out ARCs at one of the booths — and the line closed in about 30 seconds. I requested it on NetGalley — and they’d already given out all their allotted e-copies. I entered Goodreads giveaways, to no avail. Finally, my friend Laura @laurayaminreads (whom the world does not deserve, she is too good to us) remembered me when she was at the ALA conference and grabbed me an ARC. 🙌🏼
This book was everything it promises to be, and more. I grew up definitely apart from Black culture in a small, very white rural town. I got the feeling that this book will feel comforting, like home, to many Black people who read it. I imagine they will see themselves reflected in it and feel seen, which is obviously the point and a fantastic result. But the fact that it can achieve that and make me — an inevitably biased white person — feel like I wasn’t an outsider, but a friend looking in, was so impressive. Because while I could obviously tell that this book wasn’t written for me, it helped me. It leaves the door open for anyone who believes in the power of community, and progress, and anti-racism.
Also, I loved Kiera’s character. She’s well done, round and relatable and just a teen trying to live a normal teen life while also carving out a safe space for an entire marginalized community (nbd). Her arc was interesting and not sugar-coated. Her commentary was helpful and illuminative. And the entire plot was super exciting.
I’m telling you, don’t miss this one.