Hello my Kitten Gods and Goddesses! I have an absolutely stunning debut YA novel to tell you about today. Being a Southerner and a Librarian, race is an ever-present part of my life and I am constantly challenging myself to make sure that I don’t allow my white privilege to overwhelm my perceptions of interactions with patrons. Even so, this next novel I’m telling you about opened my eyes to an experience I previously had not considered. Slay by Brittney Morris tells the story of a young black female video game designer named Kiera and her experiences when her game becomes a hot button topic in the news. This novel deals with social justice issues in an elegant format that delivers an emotional gut punch. I have already recommended this one to tons of people that I work with and I can’t wait to recommend it to patrons. The dedication reads, “To everyone who has ever had to minimize who you are to be palatable to those who aren’t like you.” My dear readers, we need more of that in this world.
Author website: https://www.authorbrittneymorris.com/
Publisher: Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster)
Publish date: September 24, 2019
Kiera Johnson is just trying to live her life, going to a predominantly white private school, making good grades, being with her boyfriend Malcolm, and planning their future at HBCU’s (historically black colleges and universities for those of you not in-the-know). She’s just a normal teen…with a little bit of a secret. When she’s not at school, or hanging out with her friends or Malcolm, she is Emerald, a nubian Queen in the virtual reality video game “Slay”. Not only is she one of only two moderators of this game, she is one of the creators along with another gamer, username: Cicada. Slay is a video game that celebrates black culture and black identity. Entry into the game requires an invitation from an existing player and is a carefully guarded secret that helps to protect the safe space that the game has become. Kiera was just a gamer who noticed that many of the characters in mainstream video games, even ones with non-human characters showed a stunning lack of diversity. Either there were no black characters or they were portrayed as villains or somehow “less-than” characters. When she encountered this racism in gaming, she came up with her own solution: create a game that celebrates blackness in all its forms. The result is a triumph, with hundreds of thousands of users.
Kiera chooses to keep her gaming identity a secret from everyone in her life, essentially isolating a second persona that is just for herself: Emerald. Of course, her two lives can’t stay separate forever and when aspects of the game invade real life, Kiera becomes trapped in a nightmare. Media outlets have seized on the game and claim it is a refuge for violence that is exclusionary and discriminatory towards white players. Faced with the enormous task of protecting the safe space she has made for her players while also protecting her own identity, Kiera is in a crisis and doesn’t know how or who to go to for help.
This book was a phenomenal read. In addition to the primary tension between Kiera’s online life and her real life, there are layered stories of her relationships with her boyfriend, her sister, her predominantly white friends, and even her parents. The reader experiences all of the different pulls on Kiera’s time and attention and her fear when it all threatens to come crashing down is palpable. I have seen this novel described as Ready Player One meets The Hate U Give and I think that’s a fair description, but it is also so unique. Having read a good deal of YA fiction, Morris’ style of writing, blending inner monologues with game text and phone messaging to tell the story is unlike anything else that I have read.
This is a fast read that will stick with the reader long after the last page has been read. The story reads as though it could take place in almost any town in America, although it is actually set near Atlanta. Kiera deals with so many of the issues that minority students across the country deal with in school. She is put into spokesperson-like roles for her entire race by students who she considers friends and she’s frustrated by the responsibility that she feels for educating them on these issues. This book does what all truly important books do, it challenges the reader to look into themselves and make a judgment. This is must-read for 2019 as far as I am concerned.
Want to go further into this world? The book has its own website where you can see some of the features about the game described in the book. Plus, if my review hasn’t sold you, there is an epic book trailer on there! https://www.slaythebook.com/.
In general, I’m leery of what happens when a book becomes a movie, but please, someone try to make this book into a movie. It’s that good.
Disclaimer: No disclaimer needed here. I heard about this book several months back on a podcast and added it to my Goodreads TBR list. When Goodreads emailed me that it was now available, I checked with my library and lo-and-behold, there it was. There was almost no line on this book, and that is an absolute shame.
4 glasses of lemonade= a book you could recommend to a book group or anybody who reads. You might find controversial subject matter, but it is handled delicately.
Social justice can be a tricky subject, but actually, I put this one at 4 glasses of lemonade because of an emotionally abusive relationship in the book. It also includes a physical relationship between teenagers that I can promise you some of my patron’s parents would flip their lid if I gave them. This story is absolutely appropriate for adults and I think most teens could not only handle it, they would benefit greatly from reading this story.