Blurb from Goodreads:
‘We are different ages, genders, tribes, tongues, and traditions … but tonight we all SLAY’
Black Panther meets Ready Player One. A fierce teen game developer battles a real-life troll intent on ruining the Black Panther-inspired video game she created and the safe community it represents for black gamers.
By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is a college student, and one of the only black kids at Jefferson Academy. By night, she joins hundreds of thousands of black gamers who duel worldwide in the secret online role-playing card game, SLAY.
No one knows Kiera is the game developer – not even her boyfriend, Malcolm. But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, the media labels it an exclusionist, racist hub for thugs.
With threats coming from both inside and outside the game, Kiera must fight to save the safe space she’s created. But can she protect SLAY without losing herself?
SLAY is a fantastic YA novel that celebrates girls in STEM and black culture while also exploring sensitive topical issues and shining a light on different aspects of the black experience. If you enjoyed Black Panther for the dizzying amount of representation where there was no such thing as the ‘token black character’ in a cast which was dominated by POC, you’re going to LOVE this.
Kiera is a gifted teenage girl who has designed a virtual reality game to be a safe haven for people like her in ‘a fabulous mecca of Black excellence in which Nubian kings and queens across the diaspora can congregate, build each other up, and SLAY’. We’re shown her daily life as one of four black students at school with five hundred and fifty-five fellow white students, and how this puts her under pressure to conform to a certain style of speech and behavior to avoid being stereotyped and judged. Even at home, her mother vigilantly monitors Kiera and her sister Steph’s conversations to scold them for using terms like ‘ain’t’ or ‘bruh’ out of fear that her daughters will be ostracized simply for expressing themselves naturally.
But SLAY frees Kiera from the unfair expectations and burdens she has to shoulder as a result of her skin color, allowing her to revel in a world where she’s not an outsider, she’s a queen and thousands of people are gathered to celebrate their shared heritage and culture. Unfortunately the death of a teenage boy in a dispute over the game threatens Kiera’s vision of a safe space for black people when SLAY is exposed on worldwide media and becomes the topic of hot debate about whether it’s racist for excluding white people and if the game itself promotes violence and the designer should be held accountable.
I found this storyline to be super thought-provoking and appreciated that while Kiera had her own opinions on the matter, the book showcased a range of viewpoints and debates between characters varying from those who are clearly pushing a hostile agenda to others who are well-meaning and questioning what to believe. Kiera herself starts to waver and have doubts, which drives home how complicated things get with racial issues and that there is no clear-cut easy answer. I love when a book makes me stop and question my beliefs, and SLAY has already inspired a lively discussion with a family member about the issues Kiera struggles with; I think this is going to inspire similar debates with other readers and linger in their minds long after they finish the book!
SLAY builds up a strong supporting cast of characters around Kiera with her vivacious sister Steph, internet bestie and co-designer Cicada as well as her boyfriend Malcolm. I hadn’t anticipated the focus on Kiera’s interactions with these ladies, so seeing the supportive dynamic and growing bond between them was a pleasant surprise. Malcolm was less fun to read about and proved to be a sadly realistic mirror to those who claim to be pro-black, but then police the way black people express themselves, the choices that they make and people they love (because anyone in an interracial relationship is apparently anti-black according to Malcolm). I didn’t like Malcolm, but respect the author for portraying a range of black characters, both sympathetic and otherwise, when it would’ve been much simpler just to villainize white people instead. So many of the secondary characters show a great deal of nuance and complexity, which makes them feel completely believable and either endeared me to them or made me rant and rage while I was reading!
The dedication at the start of the book sets the tone for SLAY: ‘To everyone who has ever had to minimize who you are to be palatable to those who aren’t like you‘. Even though my race isn’t depicted in this book (I’m a very niche Indian-Samoan), my heart ached with recognition at some of the experiences Kiera goes through and it felt incredibly validating. I fumed with Kiera in moments where she couldn’t adequately combat someone’s prejudice and rejoiced in those scenes where she or someone else successfully clapped back.
SLAY is going to be such a blessing to those who search for representation in vain and yearn to be seen, and it will also be eye-opening to non-black readers who recognize overt racism but aren’t familiar with the daily micro-aggressions that black people deal with. And beyond that, this is an enormously addictive and entertaining story with an inspiring relatable protagonist and thrilling unique plot.
- strong female friendships & heartwarming sisterhood
- amazing representation
- sex positivity
- nuanced examination of racial issues
- engaging plot with sneaky twists
- Kiera’s coding ability is told, rather than shown
- Seems unrealistic the girls could afford to fund this VR world
- Malcolm Malcolm Malcolm
Personal Rating: 4 out of 5 kitties recommend this book.
About the author:
Brittney Morris holds a BA in Economics from Boston University. She spends her spare time reading, playing indie video games, and enjoying the Seattle rain from the comfort of her apartment. She lives with her husband Steven who would rather enjoy the rain from a campsite in the woods because he hasn’t seen enough horror movies. Brittney is was chosen as a Novel-In-A-Day participant 2016, is a four-time NaNoWriMo winner, and an active informal mentor in #PitMad and #DVPit. She is also a 2018 Pitch Wars mentor.
Check out other posts from the tour!
You can follow along on the ‘SLAY’ tour with the help of this schedule and I’ve linked to current posts from my fellow bloggers below!
Disclaimer: Physical copy provided by publisher free for an unbiased review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.