Do you eat meat?
Every time I open this book, I tear up. It’s so good. The emotion behind it is so raw. I am so thankful to Goodreads and Simon Pulse for an advance copy of this book. It comes out Tuesday. Please check it out.
By Brittney Morris
Published Date: September 2019
Read Date: August 2019
Format: Paperback galley (Goodreads Giveaway)
Genre: YA, Contemporary, kind of Sci-fi?
Rating: 4.5/5 Moose
Kiera Johnson leads two lives. The first is as an honors student, math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. In the second, she is the creator/developer of the multiplayer online role-playing card game called Slay. The people in each of these lives don’t know about the other. In one she’s a regular student, the other she’s a Nubian goddess named Emerald.
Her two worlds start to collide when a teen from Kansas city is murdered over a dispute in the Slay world. The news hits mainstream media, where her game that helps celebrate all different Black cultures gets labeled as racist, exclusionists, violent, and a hub for thugs and criminals.
Can Kiera keep her identity a secret and save her game?
Kiera Johnson – the main protagonist and developer of SLAY
Claire – Also known as Cicada, the other half of the developers of SLAY. She’s a college student in Paris.
Steph Johnson- Kiera’s sister. The president of Beta Beta Psi, an outspoken, unapologetic, woke feminist sorority.
Malcolm – Kiera’s boyfriend, who believes video games are partially responsible for the downfall of Black men.
Harper – Kiera’s white best friend
Wyatt – Harper’s brother, who is loudly against SLAY
Rants, Raves, and Reviews
I have to start this by discussing this cover. It is GORGEOUS. The color scheme, the digital fade, but most importantly: it is a Black girl with glasses. Like, this book could have been about anything and I would have been sold on the cover alone. The story is thankfully worthy of a gorgeous cover.
Kiera is a normal teenager, for the most part. She has boy troubles, she’s waiting to hear back from colleges, her friends are being idiots, and she makes extra money by tutoring in maths. It is so easy to relate to her normal-ness. It is so easy to remember what it was like to decide about colleges, to wonder if you are spending enough time with your boyfriend and friends and grades…
What she hides from the world is that she’s the creator and developer of SLAY, the online game that exists for Black people all around the world to have a safe space to be unapologetically themselves. The game revolves around duels played out with cards. All the cards are related to something uniquely Black culture, broken into three categories: Battle, Defense, and Hex. The world is rich with ways to find and figure out these cards, unlock and create other defense mechanisms — it’s beautifully done. It is played through VR, and I really do hope they’re in the process of actually building the game. And it gives people the ability to see a character who looks like them. Video games are inherently white. In that regard.
No one knows who Kiera really is, and no one in the real world knows she even plays the game, let alone built it. She thinks her sister will not like it, she knows her boyfriend won’t, so why add stress? She doesn’t even know anything about Cicada, the co-creator, other than she is European. This helps so that duels can be done all over the world at different times.
The book is primarily told from Kiera’s point of view, but occasionally there are chapters from Claire’s POV and individual chapters of players in the SLAY universe. Multi-POVs is so hard to pull off, and Morris does it well. Seeing the impact SLAY has on people through out the world, of different ages, genders, lifestyles…it is so beautiful. I mean, you can say there are half a million players, but it’s another thing to understand the importance this game has to those half a million characters.
This book is a dive into doing something for the right reasons, for solidly good reasons, and watching that get twisted into something hateful. Kiera built this world to have a safe space to be who she IS, to be unapologetically black. And yet when a kid in Kansas City gets murdered because of the game, the media brings on “experts” to do just this. A safe space becomes exclusionary and racist. A place where you can be unapologetically Black becomes a meeting place for thugs and criminals. And a seventeen year old girl is suddenly at risk of being sued for all of this. And on top of that, she’s hearing about the game through her friends. Her boyfriend demands that she have no part in the game. Her “friend” Wyatt is looking to actively take legal action against the creator.
And then a troll gets into the game. A troll that is using the name Dred. Going around, harassing known members, challenging Kiera. He threatens to take legal action as well, and shut down her game. To make things worse, Kiera starts to believe it’s a friend of hers.
There are somethings about this book that feel like a first book, which is why I took off half a star. That being said, I love this book. I love what it is about. I love the spin on something so important in culture today – having a space to be you, and what that means and why it is needed. I do think some aspects of that discussion could be polished, but that’s more on society than this book. I love that this book shows Claire’s insecurities. That there isn’t a line for “Black enough.” I love that this book shows off culture with pride and hope.
I think I shall take this book with me to work and hand it off to someone who needs to see themselves more in books. To a girl who needs to see someone normal doing amazing things. That way she can achieve what she’s hoping to achieve.