REPRESENTATION: Black Protagonist
GENRES/ SUBJECTS: YA Contemporary
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?
A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.
I wasn’t 100% sure how much I was going to enjoy this book, not because it didn’t interest me but because I am not a gamer and I know very little about video games.
Morris writes so well that at no point did I feel like my lack of gaming knowledge counted against me. I always knew what was going on and I never felt that my lack of interest in video gaming made SLAY an any less enjoyable read.
I’ve said before that 5-star reviews are the hardest to write and that’s equally true here.
If you’ve spent any amount of time on my blog, you’ll probably know that contemporary (especially contemporary YA) is one of my least read genres. The fact that I’ve rated this one five-star should say a lot.
The world-building within world-building in this novel is incredible. Not only are Kiera and her family, her school life and her relationships vividly described and completely believable, Morris has also created an incredible world within SLAY (the game) itself.
Days later, I’m still have convinced that I could pick up a controller and load-up SLAY myself, or that I could put it into Google and come up with results. In this respect, it’s quite similar to The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo: even though the media was created entirely for the novel, it feels 100% like something that already exists. I loved the gameplay with the card system and, even is a non-gamer, I completely understood the rules involved in the duels and how the things going on within the game related to the real world characters we were following.
Kiera has to be one of the best characters that I’ve read recently. She’s incredibly well-written and multifaceted. Morris manages to fit an awful lot of relationship dynamics within the space of this novel: we have Kiera ‘s relationship with her sister, her best friend, her best friend’s brother, her boyfriend, her parents and her co-moderator. There are also relationships between all of the supporting characters which feel fully fleshed out too.
SLAY deals with some very serious issues including cyberbullying, safe spaces, racism, cultural appropriation and feelings of alienation. The fact that Morris has managed to discuss all of these while fitting in the level of world-building and character development (without ever making the novel feel like it’s about anything other than the story itself) is incredibly impressive.
SLAY is a fabulous book and I’d recommended it to gamers and non-gamers alike.
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