Slay by Brittney Morris. September 24, 2019. Simon Pulse, 321 p. ISBN: 9781534445420. Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 930.
Ready 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?
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes, Racism, Strong language, Underage drinking, Racist slur, Domestic abuse
Booklist starred (July 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 21))
Grades 9-12. So often, Black gamer girls and Black girls in STEAM are overlooked. However, Morris unapologetically brings both identities front and center with her explosive debut. Seventeen-year-old gamer Kiera Johnson finds that being Black leaves her largely ostracized from the larger gaming community. As a result, she ingeniously creates SLAY, her own online virtual reality game that becomes more than a hobby—it becomes a community for thousands of Black gamers to embody Nubian personae in a role-playing game. The game functions as Kiera’s refuge from the racism and traumas of the outside world. But her precious, necessary safe space is threatened when a player is killed due to an in-game dispute. It creates a stir in the media and paints SLAY in a negative light. The game is stereotyped much like many Black people are; it’s being called violent and criminal; and it’s charged with being racist and exclusionary. Suddenly, Kiera is faced with the need to both protect her game and keep her identity as the developer secret. This excels at depicting everyday life for Black teens and the very specific struggles Black teens face. More than a novel, this is a conversation about safe spaces, why they’re necessary for minorities, and why we should champion their right to exist without being branded exclusionary or racist.
Kirkus Reviews (July 15, 2019)
A high school senior secretly creates a massively multiplayer online role-playing game dedicated to black culture but is attacked in mainstream media after a player is murdered. Frustrated by the rampant racism in the online multiplayer game universe and exhausted by having to be the “voice of Blackness” at her majority white high school, honors student Kiera creates SLAY—a MMORPG for black gamers. SLAY promotes black excellence from across the African diaspora as players go head-to-head in matches grounded in black culture. Although Kiera is proud of the game and the safe space it has become for hundreds of thousands of participants, she keeps her identity as lead developer a secret from everyone, including her black boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are a tactic on the part of white people to undermine black men and hold them back from success. When a dispute in SLAY spills into the real world and a teen is murdered, the media discovers the underground game and cries racism. Kiera has to fight to protect not only her identity, but the online community she has developed. Despite some one-dimensional characters, especially Kiera’s parents, debut author Morris does a fantastic job of showing diversity within the black community. Nongamers might get bogged down in the minutiae of the game play, but the effort is well worth it. Gamers and black activists alike will be ready to SLAY all day. (Fiction. 13-18)
About the Author
Brittney Morris holds a BA in Economics from Boston University because back then, she wanted to be a financial analyst. (She’s now thankful that didn’t happen). She spends her spare time reading, playing indie video games, and enjoying the Seattle rain from her apartment. She lives with her husband Steven who would rather enjoy the rain from a campsite in the woods because he hasn’t played enough horror games. Brittney is the founder and former president of the Boston University Creative Writing Club, a four-time NaNoWriMo winner and a 2018 Pitch Wars mentor.
Her website is www.authorbrittneymorris.com
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