Slay is a young adult novel about 17-year-old Kiera who leads a double life in a way. During the day she is a normal high school student, a daughter, sister, and a girlfriend. But in the safety of her own room, she becomes Emerald, a queen of a virtual world called Slay.
To play Slay, it’s recommended to use VR glasses, socks, and gloves. The game has many different areas, such as desert, swamp, rain forest and so on. The game’s main point is to battle other players with cards. The players can challenge others to a duel and if accepted, both players draw six cards: two Defense, two Hex and two Battle cards. Each card has something to do with black culture, there are cards such as the Jimi Hendrix card, the Mumbo Sauce card and the Twist Out card. The players can study their cards for a few seconds and arrange them. The winner gets points and coins in the game.
Slay is a game for black people, so to join the world of Slay, a password is needed which is only shared among black people. The world of Slay is visually beautiful and vivid, with plenty of details. Each player has their own house which can be decorated and the players visit each other. There are lots of different outfits to choose from as well. There are two creators, Emerald aka Kiera and Cicada aka Claire, both of whom have never met each other in real life but become friends during the book.
Balancing between the two worlds gets harder for Kiera when she finds out that a player has been murdered in real life over a fight for the game coins. Suddenly she must worry about whether the murder could have been prevented if she never created Slay while also worrying about a possible lawsuit regarding racism because suddenly Slay is all over the news and people are finding out about this game for black people only.
I may not be the book’s target audience – a young adult – but nevertheless I really enjoyed the book. It was eye-opening in many ways, to peek into the mind of a black teenager going to school full of mostly white people and how the world of gaming can be cruel and full of racism for black people. These kinds of things rarely cross white people’s minds, because there has always been the option to choose your character to have the same-coloured skin as you do. And it really means a lot whether there is or isn’t that choice, that representation.
Speaking of representation, I am so glad that today there are more narratives than just the white cisgender straight one. When I was a teenager, different narratives were rare so I’m glad that kids today can read books, watch movies and play games that have characters that they can relate to. For black kids to have such books as Slay is so important, to have characters that are black and are battling with issues such as white people assuming they know the answer to what is and isn’t cultural appropriation. And if there is a “right” way for black people to behave and what is a good way to spread the culture.
The story got a hold of me, and it was hard to put the book down. And I do think that I got a lot to think about and afterwards I thought that I should read more books by black (women) authors. Sure, there were few things that were quite predictable and at first it really confused me when there was a change of perspective in the middle of the chapters and I didn’t realise it at first.
The game feels like it could be an actual game. Could a 17-year-old create and uphold such a virtual world with a friend a few years older who studies computers? I’m not sure but that’s not important, it is fiction after all. Slay is a haven for thousands of black people, it’s a place where they can be unapologetically black and proud of it and their culture. There are people playing from all over the world, having fun and being a community that supports each other.
All in all, Slay is definitely worth reading, whether you are a young adult or not. It’s easy to start caring about the characters and their lives and friendships. The author, Brittney Morris, has said that when writing about Kiera, she was thinking about her own teen years and I think that shows, because Kiera seems like a well-rounded character, a 17-year-old, still growing and trying to find her own place in the world – especially as a young black woman who loves videogames.
Author: Brittney Morris
Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books (2019)
Picture: taken by me
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