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SLAY Hardcover – September 24, 2019
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“Gripping and timely.” —People
“The novel Black girl nerds have been waiting for.” —Refinery29
“Morris immerses readers in the world of gaming with her charged, timely, and witty debut.” —Entertainment Weekly
“[A] snappy YA debut.” —Washington Post
“Unlike anything out there . . . Easily the best debut novel of the year.” —Paste Magazine
“A book that knocks you off your feet while dropping the kind of knowledge that'll keep you down for the count. Prepare to BE slain.” —Nic Stone, New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin and Odd One Out
“More than a novel, SLAY is a conversation about safe spaces, why they’re necessary for minorities, and why we should champion their right to exist without being branded exclusionary or racist.” —Booklist, starred review
“[A] not-to-be-missed YA debut.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Morris does a fantastic job of showing diversity within the black community. . . . Gamers and black activists alike will be ready to SLAY all day.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Readers are invited to learn about the black experience in game culture through a compelling new lens. Exploring different versions of the African American experience, this is an important title for public and school libraries.” —School Library Journal
“Kiera is so many of us Blerds; and Morris has truly captured the holistic experiences of many Black digital users.” —The Horn Book
“Readers will cheer for Kiera as she slays her own demons, and they’ll come away from the novel desperately wishing SLAY were more than the product of Morris’ imagination.” —BookPage
“Offers a richly global perspective on the Black diaspora.” —BCCB
“Wildly entertaining and impressively insightful. Morris is absolutely an author to watch.” —Sara Grochowski, McLean and Eakin Booksellers (Petoskey, MI)
“I was captivated from the very first page and found myself quickly falling in love with Kiera but even more for what Kiera stood for. I cannot wait for more from Brittany Morris!” —Teresa Steele, Old Firehouse Books (Fort Collins, CO)
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I loved everything about this book. The characters. SLAY. The story. The writing. All of it was amazing.
Keira is a strong, brilliant teenager. She recognized a need and rather than wait for someone else to build the game she needed and wanted to play, she built it. She created the community she desperately needed. I’m doing so, she found her voice and gave a voice the the hundreds of thousands of SLAY players in the world.
This is the universal story of SLAY—what everyone can connect to—the desire and need to be seen, understood, celebrated, and to be a part of something. To belong.
SLAY is one of the best books I’ve read this year and I’ll be waiting anxiously for Brittney Morris’s next book.
When I say this book was filled with black awesomeness and black girl magic. These are the types of books I wish I had growing up but I’m just glad this books are being developed for my daughters. This book teaches you to stand up for what’s right, what you feel in your heart. This book shows little black girls that you can be anything you want to be and no one has the right to stop you.
This book touches on and addresses so many issues girls of color face as well as people of color and it was done with dignity and grace. This book will make you cry, this book will make you laugh, but more importantly this book will make you think.
Rating: 🎮 🎮 🎮 🎮 🎮
From the get-go, you root for the main character, Kiera, and for the virtual world she built. In fact, all the characters— both good and bad— in this book are incredibly deep and memorable (as are their betrayals).
SLAY is a thrilling, action-packed book whose epic battle scenes will have your heart racing! Its emotional lows will make you cry, and its emotional highs will make you cheer.
One of my top two YA reads of the year. Wish I had more stars to give it.
This was an incredible book for a few reasons:
1) Teenage Black female protagonist that stands out from the "just another girl in the hood" trope. I have to be honest, after reading a book where a 16 y/0 girl manages to program and build and entire online world while being an honor student and maintaining a boyfriend.. all in secret... made me want to pick up some coding. Since then I've been in 2 Python sources and stepped my game design.
2) A lot of imagery and callbacks about RPG gaming. She actually makes the battle scenes engaging and full of tension. I don't play RPG's but I was REALLY engaged.
3) A Pan-African view of the world thru and gaming culture.
4) A really good "who-done-it" story that will keep you going.
I recommend this book to everybody I know who is looking for good fiction.
I only had a few cringe points:
*She almost lost me at the beginning with the description of high school life. This is usually where I put the book down. Because this was a book by a black woman, I gave it a chance. I was SOOOO glad I did.
* There was A LOT of descriptions of black culture. For me, it felt unnecessary and slowed the narrative down. But my friend reminded me that the publisher probably wanted to make sure the book was "accessible" ( I mean, nobody taught me what caviar was or how to eat it but I figured it out... but whatever.)
* Teen sex (talk) always makes me cringe. I teach high school and while I fully advocate sexual education and counseling, talking about the sexual pleasure of teenagers always feels over the line. But that's just me and my prune juice talking.
I truly appreciated how Morris showed a multi-faceted Black experience in Slay. A lot of truth and knowledge was dropped, which might make some people mad, but it’s an honest glance in the mirror for society and our respective communities. I love books that challenge me to think critically about social issues.
It truly feels great to have an authentically and unapologetically Black book that I’m sure Black teens will hold near and dear—the opening pages alone my heart swell with pride, which is why representation is so important in media, especially now. I’m truly looking forward to seeing what other ingenious ideas Morris plans to bring us next.
Top international reviews
Worth the money.
What an entertaining trip into blackness and greatness !
I was not completely sold on the plot at first, I don't know anything about video games and from the reviews I've read, it seemed a bit too manichean for my tastes. But I'm happy to say I was wrong. Gaming is a big part of the story, but it's mainly about what it means to be black nowadays; there is also an interesting mystery. Plus I completely see myself in one of the characters, I loved how the author took the time to acknowledge all of the black diversity while underlining the common heritage and burden for those being part of the diaspora.
I don't agree with everything but I loved the book. I just can't get a song out of my head now... "cause I slay, I slay, I slay..."
Bien d'autres sujets sont évoqués et les débats soulevés pourraient très bien être soulevés en réalité.
Slay tells the story of a young Black woman and her experiences in the world of online gaming. There’s a risk that a review written by a middle-aged white male might fall well short of the mark for a book like this. There’s a huge amount going on here that I have never had experience with and can’t fully relate to.
Nevertheless, I can be affected by the character’s stories. I can draw some understanding of the multi-layered complexities of racism to perhaps better realize my own innate privilege. I can also enjoy what is a pretty great STEM-based story involving a Hearthstone–style game that draws on key elements of global Black culture.
Here are 5 Reasons to Read Slay by Brittney Morris.
1. The Game
The titular online game, Slay, is a digital card game where each of the cards is a representation of Black culture. It’s thematically a fascinating idea and in the novel, the game’s implementation sounds great. I would definitely like to play it.
The single idea to a card motif works very well too, giving an insight into many aspects of Black culture. Better still, within the game, cards interact with each other in a fashion that gives deeper insight into the cultural aspects they display. No feature of any culture stands in isolation, and how two things interact together can bring about further nuance and interpretations.
2. Strong Female Characters
The two characters behind the phenomenon that is Slay (the game) are great. Two young Black women who are proud of their heritage and largely uncowed by the prejudice they face. They’re also deeply interested and invested in STEM subjects. In her acknowledgments, Britteny Morris says, “To the girls in STEM, don’t let anybody tell you what you can’t do, where you can’t go or who you can’t be. To the Black gamers out there hungry for more heroes who look like you, I wrote this for you.”
A counterpoint to the computer game stuff is teenage Slay designer Kiera Johnson’s troubling relationship with her boyfriend. I can’t comment on the cultural aspects to the power dynamic in the portrayal of this relationship—other than the fact that merely by stating that, I clearly feel that a cultural comment was being made here—but readers can quickly tell this is a damaging relationship for Kiera. Her journey through it sends a strong, clear message for readers who may find themselves in a similar position.
3. Examination of Race
This book is inevitably focused on race, with a central idea of the book being whether a “Black only” space could be considered racist. Slay goes well beyond a binary notion of race. It doesn’t so much look at racist behavior or a struggle between whites and people of color, but it looks at the effects on Black people of living in a society that has been racist for generations. It goes deeper than overt racism, looking at how exhausting living in an institutionally prejudiced society can be. This book is great—I think, though these experiences are not mine—at articulating the experiences of young Black people and is also an excellent way to help white readers recognize their privilege.
4. Conflation of Experience
One thing I’ve rarely considered is the weight of having to speak on behalf of one’s race. The central characters in this story attend a school that is predominantly white. Because of this, well-meaning friends are forever asking them “is it racist, if… ?” or “is it cultural appropriation if… ?” Imagine how tiring and difficult this must be to continually avow or disavow behavior that may turn out to be deeply offensive to others.
Through good-intentions, many people inadvertently conflate the experiences of one (perceived) group as though they’re a homogenous mass. This, on reflection, is clearly nonsense. Everybody is an individual, and whilst their cultural and friendship groups might inform their opinions, there is no single correct answer when discussing complex subjects like race and cultural appropriation.
Morris expertly conveys this with split reactions to the Slay game from within Kiera’s peer group. The game means different things to different people, and not all of them view it positively.
5. It Highlights the Diaspora
One thing I loved about Slay is the way it rises above the reductive black v white arguments. Through the complex variation in the game’s cards and its planet-spanning fanbase, Britteny Morris showcases the richness of Black culture across the globe.
Slay deftly shows the variation of experience of Black people around the world. Cultural experience is vastly different depending on the country you live in, the city in which you reside, and many other factors, including sexuality. The book highlights the multifaceted nature of Black culture, and how people everywhere, whilst they may be brought together by their similarities, can still have many differences.
Slay is an excellent book for STEM interested teenagers everywhere. It draws heavily on the experiences of young Black gamers to deliver a fascinating tale that also informs and educates about the deeply complex global problem of race and prejudice.
The character does not create a unique game for black players, she uses white peoples ideas & makes out they are hers & being hers it makes them uniquely black.
Sadly it isn't very well written, goes in circles, the boyfriend is just as racist as a white person & honestly the girl not realising until the very end??? How he turned so nasty inviting violence upon her by others was harsh even for this book but nothing comes of it, really in the USA her photo is put up in the most racist country in the world & nothing happens to her the girl who invented a game just for black people? Yeah OK. She doesn't experience any back lash? What a cop out. Also the arrogance of the girl to honestly think no black person would ever give out a pass code to a white person for any reason weather they are BFF's or if they sell the information etc realllllly?
It has a very bland safe ending it all works out well for her adding to the blandness and for me lack of reality to the story, not a genre I would pick up again anytime soon too safe, bland, had nothing to say & not original.
Also for the author I did some homework LOTS of games have playable black characters not just ugly elves like your character believed maybe some homework on the market would have made a more believable argument, maybe a stronger book.
Kiera and Malcolm have made their plans for college - they’re going to Atlanta, Georgia where Malcolm will attend Morehouse (a college that existed before the US Civil Rights Act specifically to educate African Americans) and Kiera is waiting to find out if she’s got into Spelman. But sometimes Kiera dislikes Malcolm’s hardline views on what it means to be a black American - to the extent that she knows he’d be annoyed and disappointed if she didn’t get into Spelman and had to go to Emory instead - and he’s unwilling to accept anything that doesn’t conform to his views.
It’s because Malcolm doesn’t approve of video games (he sees them as another way of white people exercising control over Black Americans) that Kiera hasn’t told him of her double life. In her spare time she created and helps to run SLAY, a popular MMORPG that is specifically designed for, and only accessible by black people. The game has become an underground success, accessible by more than 500,000 players around the globe such that Kiera’s had to apply most of the money she makes from tutoring to meeting the costs of keeping it going and has a co-moderator Cicada to help her develop it and manage the in-game play.
But the on-line and real worlds collide when one of SLAY’s players is killed over a dispute over the in-game currency. Suddenly the full glare of the media is on Kiera’s creation and as accusations fly that the game’s racist against white people, everyone wants to know who’s responsible for it but when a white supremacist infiltrates the game, Kiera’s problems are about to get a lot worse …
Brittney Morris’s debut YA polemic is a mixed bag that’s strong on racial politics, micro aggressions and political pressures within the African American community and it’s great to read a celebration of black American culture. However, the plot is filled with improbabilities and inconsistencies and the focus on the Black American experience comes at the expense of global black experience while toxic masculinity gets a disturbing pass.
It’s always difficult to review a polemic because usually the focus on the ideas comes at the expense of plot and character. For me, Morris’s book falls into the same trap. That’s not to say that I disagree with the ideas - she makes a valid point about the frankly vile racism that people of colour get subjected to in popular MMORPGs so Kiera’s idea of creating a specific space where black people can come and play and celebrate black culture in a safe and non-judgmental way made sense to me.
The problem is that the central idea of a game that only black people know about and control the invitation codes really didn’t work for me because it’s just too unbelievable that no one outside that community would ever find out about it, and this leads me to my main criticism of Kiera in that for someone we are repeatedly told and shown as being smart and hard working, she is ridiculously naive about how the internet works to the point that I started to not believe in her. I also struggled to see how she could build the game on what appeared to be limited resources - for something that size and given that it’s a VR game as well I would have expected there to be considerable server costs, constant maintenance issues and moderation issues given we’re told there are over 500,000 players worldwide. Finally, I have to say that I find books that describe computer games to be a little dull and this was no exception, especially as the game seems to rely on a card based battle system, which would probably work better visually than in text form.
That said, I did like the way the game celebrates black culture and Morris does a great job of incorporating celebrities, sportsmen and cultural figures both into the game and through Malcolm’s interest in black history and culture. However, it is noticeable how with one exception at the end of the book, all the references in the book are to African American culture, which seems oddly colonial for a game aimed at the diaspora and particularly disappointing given that Cicada is French, a country where the black community has a rich culture and history. However, I did like the small chapters that show other people playing the game and what they get out of it and although I wish that more had been made about the in game currency elements and the violent behaviour it can lead to.
In addition to having concerns about Kiara’s naivety about the internet, for a smart girl she doesn’t bother doing any research on lawyers and it did annoy me that given she’s fearing being sued over SLAY being discriminatory, she doesn’t go to a lawyer who specialises in that area but instead just picks someone she’s seen on TV. This is a particular shame given that Morris is so good at skewering the racist double standards that certain TV news shows display when it comes to covering African American issues. I also thought that Morris does a good job of showing the different discussions that take place within the African American community in terms of issues and clash points - most notably in conversations between Kiara, Steph and their parents on ebonics and more heavy handedly in the conversations between Kiara and Harper.
The most problematic element of the book though is in the relationship between Kiara and Malcolm because right from the off he gave me toxic boyfriend vibes - controlling, patronising and arrogant I really didn’t like the interactions, mainly because Kiara doesn’t see anything wrong with them. I got that this was intentional on Morris’s part (and it does help that Steph is shown as strongly disliking Malcolm because of the way he behaves around her sister) but the suggestion is that Kiara thinks that this is due to Malcolm’s commitment to black culture and I found that quite frightening because there did not seem to me, to be anything specifically African American about his reasons for trying to control her - it came across as standard toxic male behaviour so the association was a little icky for me (but I appreciate that I may be completely misunderstanding this).
Ultimately, this is one of those books where I applaud the intention but found the execution lacking, although this wouldn’t stop me from checking out Morris’s next book.
‘SLAY’ by Brittney Morris has left me with mixed feelings. Even though I am not in its intended audience in terms of age and am white, I certainly could empathise with Keira’s desire to create a safe space within the online gaming community for herself and extending it to other black gamers.
The criticism from the wider world when a player was murdered after a SLAY related dispute and the existence of the secretive game was exposed opened up the narrative to examining further issues.
Even if there were aspects that were beyond my ken, I hope that I have enough understanding to relate and also to learn from the narrative.
I liked Keira very much as well as other supporting characters, including younger sister Steph, best friend Harper, and her Parisian co-moderator, Cicada. However, her boyfriend, Malcolm, threw up all kinds of red flags in terms of his controlling behaviour. Keira seemed blind to this though her younger sister clearly wasn’t.
I appreciated that Brittney Morris was seeking to address a range of serious issues around racism, especially in the USA. Her fictional game celebrates the black experience and I appreciated that she sought to reference the entire African diaspora rather than just African-American culture.
However, my biggest issue with this novel is the amount of disbelief that I had to suspend about a teenager creating and maintaining an online VR game with hundreds of thousands of players while attending high school and in a serious relationship. Let alone how she learned to code at this level, can afford to run it given that it was free to play. Other reviewers with more experience with MMORPGs have pointed out other inconsistencies.
As much as I enjoyed the characters and story, these niggles stalked me throughout my reading.
So I am torn about my star rating. I expect that my concerns about the realistic aspects will not be as important to some readers but I feel that I needed to express them.
I certainly look forward to future projects from Brittney Morris.
I can't pinpoint what it is exactly that kept me hooked - considering the writing itself is (IMO) nothing special, and the plot is unique but very young YA (which I've outgrown) - yet something did keep me hooked, so much so that I was completely entranced by this story until the very end.
Kiera Johnson just wants to play video games where people of colour are treated fairly, and racist slurs aren't constantly being thrown her way. With none currently available, she decides to take matters into her own hands, and create a game of her own: SLAY. The intention is to make it a safe place for black people (only) to play and duel, and be themselves without the worry of being treated differently simply because of the colour of their skin.
But when a young man is killed and the motive behind it surrounds SLAY, it causes a big controversy surrounding the game. Debates rise that it's problematic, dangerous, and racist, and through it all Kiera has to fight to keep SLAY from being shut down both from beyond the game, and from within.
-- "King and queens, you know the drill. We are here first and foremost to celebrate Black excellence in all its forms, from all parts of the globe. We are different ages, genders, tribes, tongues, and traditions. But tonight, we are all Black. And tonight, we all SLAY." --
I enjoyed the gaming aspect of SLAY, along with the action to the story surrounding Kiera fighting for the game she created not just for herself, but for millions of other people around the world too.
And I REALLY enjoyed the chapters to this story that were told from fellow SLAYer's perspectives, where we see just how meaningful and special and impactful the game is to others, and how it is what Kiera created has helped them be themselves in a virtual yet safe environment, where others don't make them feel uncomfortable simply because of who they are, and the colour of their skin.
The only flaw I found in SLAY was the fact that the majority of the secondary characters - mainly Harper and Wyatt (and Malcolm, though for different reasons) - were not only incredibly toxic for Kiera (and I REALLY questioned her sanity for surrounding herself with them), but they (to me) were only really brought into the story when it was relevant, and even then they didn't really play much of a part in SLAY, other than to make problematic comments that were just not necessary. I mean, I can see WHY Brittney Morris included these moments as it put more motive behind Kiera's decision to create SLAY. But to have Kiera's "friends" make these comments? I just didn't like that. I didn't like THEM, and I feel like if you took Harper and Wyatt out of the story, there'd be little to no difference to the main plot whatsoever, and my rating may have even been higher than my 3.75 Stars.
But other than that, SLAY was AMAZING! It was original, imaginative, fast-paced, and had more to the story than I expected. It also had one hell of a twist delivered towards the end of the book that really took me by surprise, and left me absolutely speechless.
I loved Kiera, I loved Claire - a friend of Kiera's and a developer of SLAY - and I just really enjoyed this story overall, and I'm now very excited to see what it is Brittney Morris delivers next.
It is complete and self contained in one volume, and not part of any series or trilogy. It runs for three hundred and eighteen pages, and seventeen chapters.
This does contain some strong language, and some racist ones as well, so I would say best reading age is fifteen and up.
Main character, who narrates nearly all of it, and does so in the first person present tense, is Kiera Johnson. Seventeen years old, one of the few black students at her academy. In her spare time, she runs a virtual reality game called Slay, where people can meet and duel online. Only black people are allowed to be members of this site.
Nobody, not even her boyfriend, a rather intense young man, knows she does this. But then when one player is murdered in the real world in a dispute involving online matters, a media frenzy follows. The game is labelled racist violent and exclusive.
How does Kiera cope with the resulting situation? She has a fight on her hands to keep control of her world. Both real and otherwise...
As with all good young adult stuff, this is written in a very readable manner from the off. And it does make Kiera an easy character to like and relate to. Certain characters will talk about the kind of things that get Daily Mail readers worked up easily. But then this is all from one singular perspective. If that's not your perspective, then you need to be open minded and give it a chance, because to see what it's like from this other one is interesting and thought provoking.
The plot doesn't really kick in at all till nearly page 85, and I was getting a bit impatient for it get going by then. But it's fine once it does. This is a really good read from then on. Regardlesss of if you're sixteen or older, because it does cover some interesting topics. And as all good fiction that does such should do, it doesn't preach or offer answers, it makes you think about them. It also reminds you of the dangers of taking some things too far and too seriously, as one character does that very much.
The viewpoint occasionally shifts in some chapters to characters elsewhere in the world, who are caught up periphally in the whole thing. With most of those they aren't entirely important plot wise, but some are quite interesting, and I would have liked to see more of what they then go on to do, but you don't get back to them at all. But that's only a minor complaint.
Another thing this does very well is introduce a mystery, and the resulting developments and solution to that are really good. I didn't see the answer coming at all.
A good, thought provoking, interesting and ultimately enjoyable read. So I'm glad I read it.
The gaming elements of the story were excellently realised, and melded well with the real-life sections. The novel follows several characters, some of which are linked only by their love of the game. I was a little niggled by the fact that the author capitalised Black every single time - doing this while leaving white lower case seems rather contrary to the anti-prejudice message in the story? Overall I very much enjoyed the book, although I did feel that some parts were slightly over-laboured.
I think something that also must be mentioned is the way internet friendship is portrayed in this book. It was real and genuine, written by someone who not only knows what these friendships are like, but values them deeply. Thank you, it was such a warm surprise to see this written into your book.
The book ended with such a satisfying twist, I can't give this anything less than five stars.
A fierce teen game developer battles a real-life troll intent on ruining the Black Panther-inspired video game she created and the safe community it represents for black gamers. By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is a college student and one of the only black kids at Jefferson Academy.
By night, she joins hundreds of thousands of black gamers who duel worldwide in the secret online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer - not even her boyfriend, Malcolm.
But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, the media labels it an exclusionist, racist hub for thugs. With threats coming from both inside and outside the game, Kiera must fight to save the safe space she's created.
But can she protect SLAY without losing herself?"
Great for all teenagers, or adults. This book s about virtual reality game, any young adult will probably like it.