Author: Brittney Morris
Genre: Contemporary YA
Source: Won! (Twitter Giveaway)
One sentence synopsis
Keira Johnson, a seventeen year old honor student and secret game designer, has to deal with the fallout when her game, SLAY, comes under attack.
“As we duel, as we chat, there’s an understanding that “your black is not my black” and “your weird is not my weird” and “your beautiful is not my beautiful,” and that’s okay. It brings tears to my eyes if I think about it too long.”
Over the summer, as I was looking for more books to add to my ever-growing TBR, one title kept popping on my radar. It seems like every Booktuber I subscribed to, every bookstgrammer I followed, was talking about a new YA novel called SLAY. I’m gonna be honest… the first thing that caught my attention was the cover. I mean… LOOK at it! A young black woman with gorgeous, natural hair and sporting some cute ass glasses. I would have loved to have a cover like that sitting on bookshelves when I was a young girl!
Then I started learning what it was about. Kiera Johnson is an honors student who excels at math and, unbeknownst to everyone she knows, game design. Kiera has created an online card game dubbed SLAY: a place where blackness is celebrated, where cards have names like “The Wobble” and “Black Jesus”, and where black people around the world can play without having to worry about racism. But then a young boy is murdered over an in-game dispute and the entire world learns about SLAY. Now, Kiera is having to listen to her white friends cry reverse racism and the news stations question whether her game is at fault. And, to make matters worse, a troll has infiltrated her beloved world and is wreaking havoc. Kiera needs to find a way to protect her game, but can she do it while keeping her secret?
So, as a black female gamer who has been gaming since before she was Kiera’s age, you KNOW I had to read this book. I happened to win it in a giveaway run by Tomes & Textiles on Twitter and I was over the moon! Now, I will say that contemporary is not my typical go-to, but I was just so excited for this book. I think it was part cover, part synopsis, part hype, but y’all, I was not steered wrong.
This book. THIS BOOK! How many ways can I describe how much I loved it? I loved absolutely everything about it! The characters. Let’s start there. I may be 37 years old, but I saw myself in Kiera. She was me in high school, trying very hard to not call too much attention to my blackness in a predominantly white school. Code-switching depending on which friends I was spending time with. Being judged for “sounding white”. And Kiera’s relationship with her family made me feel so nostalgic for my childhood! I love this depiction of a strong, healthy black family! I could go on for days about how well written every single character was in this book. Even the ones I disliked.
But we have to talk about the game. I absolutely love when a book has some type of video game (or just games in general) element. Ready Player One is one of my favorite books of all time, after all! However, if there aren’t enough details about said game, the book will inevitably fall flat for me. Thankfully, SLAY seemed so real that I was wondering if I could get my own code! The descriptions of the in-game graphics, the duel scenes, THE CARDS! Y’all, the cards! One of my favorite aspects of this book was learning about the many different cards, like the Twist-Out or Mom’s Mac and Cheese. The fact that every card was a celebration of black people and the black experience just made me want to hug this book.
And that’s the last thing I’m going to gush about with this book. It talked about a difficult topic with beauty and grace. Is it wrong to want a gaming space where you don’t have to deal with constant casual (and often blatant) racism? Is it wrong to want a game where the default skin color isn’t paler than a polar bear in a snowstorm? Is it “anti-white discrimination” to make and enjoy a game that celebrates black culture? Obvious answer is “no”, but it is a tricky topic and I feel this book discussed it beautifully. I teared up many times watching this young girl try and tackle these issues while feeling like she couldn’t open up to anyone in her life. It made me think of my daughter and the issues she might soon be facing as she grows into a young black woman.
But at least my daughter will have something I didn’t as a kid. She’ll have books like SLAY where she can see herself reflected not only in the pages, but on the cover, as well. A book that celebrates her culture and her beauty. This book deserves all the stars for that alone.
Final thoughts: An amazing novel about navigating both the online and offline world as a young black woman and how to hang on to your crown when the world tries to take it.
Have any of you read this book? What were your thoughts on it?
Let me know in the comments!
And, as always, happy reading!