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?
Thank you to Hachette Childrens for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I want to start off by saying, as a white person, this book wasn’t written for me so in writing this review, I hope to bring attention to an amazing novel for black readers. I can only imagine how amazing this book would be for young, black gamers – especially girl gamers.
As well as Kiera, this book features a lot of amazing characters and beautiful relationships. I’ll discuss some of my favourites so this doesn’t go on forever. Kiera is everything you want in a main character – multi-layered, fun, clever and badass. Her younger sister, Steph is equally as amazing as despite being younger, she speaks up for equal rights and educates everybody (whether they sometimes like it or not) on everything from black history to black stereotypes. Then of course we have Cicada/Claire, fellow mod of SLAY and Kiera’s virtual best friend. Despite not knowing a lot about each other outside SLAY in the beginning, the two develop an amazing bond and they’ll definitely go down as one of my favourite fictional friendships. Some other characters include Kiera and Steph’s mum and dad, their school friend, Harper and her brother Wyatt and Kiera’s boyfriend, Malcolm.
The plot follows Kiera, a teenage girl battling between being an honour student and the game developer of the biggest video game played by millions of black people worldwide. In the virtual world, she is known as Emerald and she keeps this part of her secret until one day, a SLAY player is murdered over in-game currency. Suddenly the game is catapulted into the media’s eye with people calling Kiera and the game itself, racist and dangerous. Not only was the plot insanely gripping but Brittney Morris managed to show us both Kiera and Emerald – the problems of her real life and also the dynamics of SLAY. As a big gamer, it’s clear to me how much work she put into this fictional game. I got so invested in the game and learning about all the aspects of it. And without spoilers, the end duel had me sitting on the edge of my seat and that plot twist/reveal. Wow.
As I said at the start, as a white person I can appreciate this book but I cannot understand in the way black readers could. However, I loved how much emphasis was put on being black in this novel. We learn about black history (through Steph, Malcom and even some of the in-game cards that Kiera and Cicada created.) AAVE is mentioned, as well as stereotypes that black people are subjected to. There is some racist language involved but of course, it is challenged. Kiera, her sister, Malcom and a new girl are the only black people in school and they are often asked stupid questions about black culture and even the culture of other POC because they are all put into one category. When Kiera created SLAY, she created a place where black people could be themselves and celebrate their similarities, but also their differences. And you could almost feel the shift in Kiera whenever she put her VR headset on.
I knew I would love this book when I first heard about it – even just from a girl gamer’s perspective so I can only imagine how amazing this book will feel in the hands of others. Brittney has created an amazing world – both real and virtual and I can’t wait to see what else she produces in the future. I already miss Kiera, Steph and Cicada and I hope they’re all happy and of course, I hope they are Slaying!
This book will be released September 24th, 2019!
Lots of Love,