by Brittney Morris
Published September 2019
So I need to begin this review by saying this book was not meant for me. It was written for black teens. Black gamer teens, specifically, but it is 100% about being black, and all the beautiful variety that entails.
I have never seen so many Black issues combined in a single book, and done so beautifully and cohesively. From being the “Black friend” expected to speak for all black people, to dealing with racial bigotry in video games, to wondering if you’re “Black enough,” to refusing to call the cops on a black man, to misogynoir, to the occasional belief that if black women don’t date black men they hate their own race, to whether AAVE is respectable or not, to simply wanting your own space to be black in without being judged – Morris hits SO MANY POINTS and does it in a natural way.
My ONLY complaint about the book is that Kiera is somehow juggling being an honors student, tutoring friends, having a boyfriend, and somehow also hiding the secret that she’s one of two developers for an online game with hundreds of thousands of users? They’re aren’t enough hours in the day! I feel like the author doesn’t realize how much work goes into coding that kind of environment. So I had to suspend my disbelief when it came to that part of the story. Everything else, though, is just fantastic.
The video game itself is fascinating – it’s a VR-based game, so you slip on a headset, gloves, and socks, and walk around as your character, collecting items and using in-game coins to buy cards to duel with. The cards are inspired by all manner of Black culture, from Fufu, a staple food in many African countries, to “That One Auntie’s Potato Salad” and “Reclaiming My Time” (which makes you go REALLY FAST). Each duelist gets to pull, at random, six cards from their decks to duel with, and they have access to every card they personally have bought. Better cards cost more in-game money, or rarer in-game materials to make. It’s a really, really cool idea for a game, and I kind of want somebody to make it now.
The book does need a few content warnings – there’s emotional abuse and cyber-stalking. It’s pretty impactful when it happens.
I loved the book, but as I said, I am absolutely not its intended audience. For that, read this glowing review over at Black Girl Nerds.
I think the book is a good look at the pressure black people – especially black girls – are under. Because it’s never just one issue, even if books like to concentrate on one or a few. It’s always all of them, every day. We’re not always aware of that, as white people – and we should be.
From the cover of Slay:
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, not her family, not even her boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are a “distraction to keep the Black man from becoming great.”
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, Kiera faces potentially being sued for “antiwhite discrimination,” and an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to harass all the players and take over.
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?