Kiera is known as a math whiz, an awesome girlfriend, a supportive best friend and one of the only black kids at her prep school. What no one knows is that she’s the creator of SLAY, a VR role-playing card game and “fabulous mecca of black excellence in which Nubian kings and queens across the diaspora can congregate, build each other up, and SLAY.” It’s growing beyond Kiera’s wildest dreams, but she still keeps the identity of her in-game persona, Emerald, a secret. One night shocking news breaks and suddenly everybody’s talking about SLAY, Emerald, and by extension, Kiera. She feels pressured to reveal herself, but if Kiera did cast off her digital armor, it would mean leaving herself and SLAY exposed to whatever a judgmental, cruel and violent world could throw at them.
My only complaint with SLAY is that for a realistic fiction novel Kiera’s situation felt pretty impossible. From the fact that no one in Kiera’s family ever caught her SLAYing to a certain troll being someone she knows, it felt like she was a little too lucky (or unlucky) all of the time. It didn’t decrease my enjoyment of the novel but simply made the world feel a little smaller than I think it could’ve been.
Kiera was a kind and sensible teen whose situation may have been slightly unrealistic, but that doesn’t mean her personality was. We learn so much about her from her relationships, with a controlling boyfriend to a white best friend to an energetic little sister. Kiera is also understandably afraid throughout the novel, the events around her actually scary. In the end, she is the classic strong leader, but not without plenty of internal doubt along the way.
The titular game is incredibly fleshed out and feels much bigger and more original than just an alternate Wakanda. While I would never play myself, I’m positive SLAY would change the world for the better if it existed, and it’s at the top of my “fictional games that need to be real” list (Actually, it’s the founding member of that list. Sorry OASIS, but I’m pretty sure you’d cause an apocalypse.)
This book is a powerful debut that makes me extremely excited to see what Brittney Morris does next. The ending was the best part, the climax and conclusion equal parts action-packed, subversive and heartfelt. SLAY is a short and smart novel about the importance of freedom, pride and safe spaces where people can be their kickass selves in today’s frustratingly unjust society.
Rating: five YASS cards/five
For fans of: On the Come Up by Angie Thomas, Warcross by Marie Lu, Black Panther
Review by: Ivy