“your black is not my black” and “your weird is not my weird” and “your beautiful is not my beautiful,” and that’s okay.
I heard a lot of talk about SLAY by Brittney Morris on Twitter, and between that and the gorgeous cover, I had to send in a request. Thanks to Netgalley, Hachette and Hodder and of course Brittney Morris for my eARC. I ended up reading this book in one day, and if I hadn’t had to go to work, it probably would have been one sitting.
I gave SLAY 4 stars.
Read me for the…
- Black excellence
- Strong female character
- Wakanda-esque tech queen
- Cultural references
Kiera Johnson is your average seventeen year old. She’s a diligent student and a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at a predominantly white school, doing her best to focus on her college applications and avoid getting dragged into debates as ‘the Black opinion’. But when she gets home, she logs into SLAY, a secret multiplayer VR online role-playing card game, where hundreds of thousands other Black gamers duel with their Nubian personas. SLAY was made by Black gamers for Black gamers, and Kiera knows that better than anyone, because she’s the game developer. Nobody knows that, not her family or friends or her boyfriend, Malcolm. When a teenager is murdered over the game, SLAY is suddenly thrust into the mainstream media, and is labelled as racist and exclusionary, with players described as thugs and the fantasy duels compared to gang violence. When a troll manages to get inside the game and targets Kiera for her ‘anti-white discrimination’, she has to find a way to save the world she’s created not just for herself, but for the thousands of players who have made their home there too.
What I loved:
Before I get into this review properly, I want to put in the caveat that this book wasn’t written for me. I’m an English white woman from a reasonably privileged family, I can’t know what it’s like to be a black teenager in America so I won’t pretend that I can understand a lot of the cultural nuance in this book.
That being said, I still found this book to be super engaging and very accessible. I started this book before work, nearly made myself late because I didn’t want to put it down, and then I devoured it in tiny snapshot bites when I had a spare few minutes between customers. It was so easy to read that I honestly couldn’t put it down. There were a few of the technical snags that often come with debut novels, where the writing was a bit clunky in places or the pacing was a little off, but it’s so hard to care about niggly details like that in the face of a really beautiful story.This book isn’t technically perfect, but I loved it so much that I couldn’t bring myself to care about any flaws in the writing style.
I think this book is important on so many levels. It’s unapologetic in the way it celebrates blackness and black identity, and it also handles the difficulties of relationships at seventeen so well. It shows her struggling with her boyfriend’s opinions differing to hers, it shows her handling her family’s expectations of her, and it shows her handling the world’s expectations of her as a black woman. There were dialogues in this book that I might not personally agree with but I fully believe that all of them are super important and that this book is a love letter to young black women who want to challenge the world they’re living in.
I also particularly loved the way that Brittney Morris called out not just the racism that POC face on a daily basis, but also the racism that can exist within POC communities. Keira is torn between being not white enough and not black enough, and has to find her own identity and how she relates to her culture. There’s a twist in the book that I think is really well done. I was surprised but also felt really vindicated for some of my earlier misgivings about certain plot points, and the moral lesson of this book ended up being impressively lightly-handled for a heavy topic and didn’t drag the book down from it’s pop-culture packed, fast-paced tone.
Where can I buy?
If you can, please support your local independent bookseller.