Fans of The Hate U Give, I have one for you!
SLAY by Brittney Morris features Kiera Johnson, a senior in high school, who leads a double life. No one—her parents, sister, best friend, even her boyfriend—knows that for the past three years, she’s been the developer of an online VR video game. SLAY is a card-dueling game about and celebrating Black culture. However, when a boy is killed over a SLAY-related dispute, the game becomes a media sensation with a notorious reputation. Kiera has to grapple with the ramifications, and consider how to keep her game identity, the game, and herself safe.
Kiera is a well-written protagonist. She’s brave and intelligent, but not without flaws and doubts. You really root for her, and feel how much is resting on her shoulders, though she is only seventeen. The other characters, such as Steph, Harper, Wyatt, Claire, and Malcolm, are all wonderful. Their conversations about Black identity, and how to navigate a world that remains rife with white privilege, are fascinating.
Morris also incorporates small vignettes throughout the plot, featuring minor characters who interact with Kiera in various ways. These include a professor who watches his nephews deal with racist comments in other video games, a transgender girl who can finally be herself while playing SLAY, and a middle-aged man who is constantly seen as a novelty as one of the few Black people in Beijing. This is a brilliant addition to the story that gives the readers a picture of how far-reaching SLAY has become, and the disparate experiences Black people have.
Also, I am not a gamer, but I greatly enjoyed reading the scenes that happen in-game. The concept is so interesting, and the action is suspenseful, exciting, and unpredictable. It made me wish SLAY existed, not for me, but for those like Kiera, Steph, and Claire, who might need it.
The plot twist was not altogether surprising to me, which is a surprise in itself (I’m not usually good at foreseeing this kind of thing). Although I had an inkling of this one, the reveal was still impactful and memorable. On the other hand, I found the resolution of the conflict to be a bit rushed. Some might call it a convenient ending, and though I personally wouldn’t go that far, I thought we could have had at least one more scene with a certain character, for a little more closure.
But in the end, Brittney Morris’ debut novel SLAY is fantastic. The characters are distinct and sympathetic; the video game world feels real and expansive; the themes of racism and the importance of having safe spaces for historically-oppressed groups are full of depth and complexity; and most importantly, Kiera’s journey is so empowering.
Overall rating: 9/10