Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking those links, I will receive a small commission from the sale at no extra cost to you.Slay by Brittney Morris
Published by Simon Pulse on September 24, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary
Format: Hardcover (323 pages)
Purchase: Amazon • IndieBound
Add Book: Goodreads • Bookhype
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?
Slay was wild! And thought-provoking, and infuriating, and cheer-inducing, and…wild! I know next-to-nothing about MMORPGs. I’m a Simmer, so I understand the addiction of videogames and using them as an escape and a safe place. Which is what Kiera’s game, Slay, is. It’s an escape and safe place for Black teenagers (and really, Black people of all ages, as we find out). But that safety is threatened when a teen is murdered over the game, and people start calling it exclusionary and racist. Kiera not only feels guilt over this boy’s death, but she also fears being sued for creating a game that not-so-subtly caters to a strictly Black audience.
I’ll start with what bothered me about Slay. How in the world did Kiera and Cicada (her real name is revealed later) create a game with 500,000 players by themselves with no income? Kiera is in high school and Cicada is in college. Both are very academically inclined, so they have no jobs to earn income to pay for this game. We get brief mentions of Kiera commissioning art from online artists and some donations, but she’s created an ENTIRE WORLD with multiple regions, weapons, armor, clothing, animals, and 1,200+ battle cards! And this isn’t some flat, text-based game. It’s VR and fully immersive! That is not cheap! Not to mention the server costs and other maintenance. It was amazing, but not even remotely believable.
I was able to look past that though, because I just got sucked into Kiera’s story. She poured her heart and soul into building a game where she felt welcome and safe. She was able to create a character who looked like her without fear of harassment. She was able to pull from all facets of Black culture to create something wonderful, fun, and educational. She’s doing what she felt was right for other Black people. Not everyone agrees with her, including her asshole boyfriend who thinks Black people need to focus on education and business and family only. Black people are not a monolith, obviously.
Slay gets pretty intense when Kiera is faced with a possible lawsuit and the potential for her identity to be revealed. This would be scary for an adult, but for a seventeen-year-old girl, it’s just crazy. She handles it all in the best way she knows how though: in the battle arena! Yeah, it gets super nerdy in here! It kind of makes me want to play…
What did you think of Slay, if you read it? If not, are you convinced that you should (because you should!)?