My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Published: September 24th 2019
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?
“As we duel, as we chat, there’s an understanding that “your black is not my black” and “your weird is not my weird” and “your beautiful is not my beautiful,” and that’s okay. It’ brings tears to my eyes if I think about it too long.”
I knew when I saw this that I wanted to get my hands on this, so I actually requested this in two different places – just incase! I mean it was marketed as Warcross meets Black Panther – yes please! Thankfully Simon and Schuster was lovely enough to send me a physical arc because this was such a wonderful book.
I have to start by saying that I’m a little out of my depth with this review, SLAY wasn’t written for me in any shape or form. This book is unapologetically black and I can’t even begin to imagine what this book has meant and will meant to so many young black teens – it makes my heart happy to think it. I’m going to review this the best I can, but keep in mind that I am a middle-class, white, Canadian girl and my voice isn’t the main one you should be listening to when it comes to this book. I encourage you to search out ownvoice reviews on this, it’s so very important. I would recommend checking out: Big Bang Books and Regina’s Review
This story features a seventeen year old girl named Keira, who is leading a kind of double life. One part of her life is being the good daughter and sister and going to a mostly white school and trying to excel, so she can get into a good college. The other part of her life, she is the creator and co-admin (with another young bi-racial girl) of an online MMORPG for thousands of the black community only called SLAY. Her parents, siblings and boyfriend are completely in the dark about this – she has remained 100% anonymous. Her fear is in telling them is that they will think it’s a waste of time and not really get what she is doing for the community and how important it is to her and so many others. Unfortunately, a player of the game is murdered outside the game because someone wanted some of his game items and so begins a giant new circus about violence in video games, as well as questions if the site is racist for being anti-white.
I want to get this out of the way real quick – there is no such thing as white racism. Racism means oppression, not hurt feelings. If you are not being oppressed by another race, by their actions then there is no racism. Therefore, there can be not white racism – just name calling. Just saying… SLAY is based on games like World of Warcraft, but it for the black community only and all the game play is based off historical, cultural, entertainment and everyday references that mean something in the black community. No, not just the US community – world wide. It sounds like such a badass game and I’d do it no justice if I ever tried to explain it but it’s very well thought out and super accessible for the people that are not gamers. I will say that there is a lot of gaming talk and I am a gamer, but I don’t think many will struggle with it. I promise, it’s broken really easy and keeps it interesting. It’s not even my type of game and I was completely invested – the stakes always seemed high and the characters were amazing sounding. A friend actually asked me if there was a game like this for certain communities. I sadly answered, “no, because it would be swamped instantly by other communities with nothing but hate fueled comments.” It’s a shame. I think safe spaces are very important and as a girl gamer I get the desire for just wanting a place where you don’t have to be called names or harassed.
The one thing I could really relate to in this book is the girl gaming aspect and it being assumed they were men and ending gave me such chills and brought tears to my eyes. This is for the girls – the STEM girls! This book hears you and gets you. I wanted to stand up and cheer for these girls – just thinking about the ending in this book makes me weepy – it’s so flipping empowering and I think the author for putting it on paper and allowing me to read it.
The only negative thing I can say about this book is that it’s a bit far fetched in terms of the creating the game. A massive game could not be run by two young girls alone – it takes a ton of people. It also takes cash, there is a reason that games aren’t free – they aren’t cheap to make, especially on the caliber of SLAY. Also, there is no way they could just being doing it in their spare time – not realistic. You’d be a slave to your PC if you were creating something like that and keeping it going. This didn’t really bother me, but it might frustrate some because of how unrealistic it is and how easy the author makes it seem.
I feel like I was all over the place with this review. I haven’t given the best overview ever but please don’t be scared of this book because you think it’s a gaming book or that you won’t get it because you aren’t black – you should read it for that exact reason. It will likely open your eyes to some really important topics. I know it did for me. I highly recommend this one, I wish I could do it better justice but please go read it.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster for a physical ARC in exchange for my honest review.