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YA Review: Slay by Brittney Morris

Title: Slay
Author: Brittney Morris
Year published: 2019
Category: YA fiction
Pages: 336 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location: (my 2022 Google Reading map)USA (WA)

SummaryReady Player One meets The Hate U Give in this dynamite debut novel that follows a fierce teen game developer as she 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 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?

Review: I have had the best reading week and this one just made it that much better. It's like Ready Player One (see my review), but better because there are issues of depth in addition to the fun video world and friendship aspect.

This novel has been on my physical TBR shelf for a few years and I am not sure why I didn't read it until now, but wow. Just wow. I'll admit the first 30 pages were good, but didn't totally grip me, then I was sucked into Kiera's real and video world and couldn't put the book down. I am not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination. I do not get Dungeons and Dragons, made up worlds (except in books), or the online gaming world. But, I totally understood the need for Slay: a game where black people in the diaspora can come together without racism, harassment, and stress. It's a little bit like the Red Tent is for women (if you don't know the reference, definitely check out Anita Diamant's novel The Red Tent).

Kiera is a fantastic character as are all the supporting cast. She is feisty, smart, innovative, and I love that she eventually finds her voice with the support of "strangers" who are anything but. Through Kiera we are exposed to the every day micro (and macro) aggressions which BIPOC put up with (think hair, representing all BIPOC, n-word, and worse). This book really shows how early on this begins (think birth) and the toll it can take on people. 

I liked the way the game and the interactions among the players blended nicely with Kiera's real world of home and school. She tries to keep them compartmentalized, but eventually, that isn't possible. We all try to do this to some extent, and sometimes, it all comes crashing into eachother. 

This book is emotional, exhilarating, and just so well done.

Challenges for which this counts: none

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