This is one of the most buzzed-about YA books of the year, and with excellent reason. Slay is phenomenal.
Keira Johnson is a 17-year-old high school senior, math tutor, and one of a small handful of students of color at her high school, Jefferson Academy. Keira is at her happiest, though, when she steps into her character, Emerald, in the VR game she created: Slay. Slay is at once a competitive game and celebration of black culture, with hundreds of thousands of players. Slay lets black players inhabit a world where they don’t need to be a spokesperson for their race; they don’t need to code-switch to move in a white world; they can be, together, while competing in arenas and using cards that praise and elevate notable black men and women throughout history, and touchstones – both weighty and humorous – without having to explain or defend their meaning. Keira can’t let anyone know she’s the one behind Slay, though – her boyfriend, Malcolm, thinks video games are a way to keep young black men and women distracted and off balance, and she worries that her parents wouldn’t approve. But when a Slay-er is murdered over a Slay coin dispute, Keira finds her game the target of the media, who wants to call out the game and its creator as racist, and a dangerous troll, who threatens to take Keira to court for discrimination.
Slay is just brilliant writing. Gamers will love it for the gameplay and the fast-paced gaming action. The writing is sharp, with witty moments and thought-provoking ideas, including how a game can unite a community on a worldwide basis. Told mostly through Keira’s point of view, chapters also switch up to introduce readers to people affected by Slay, including a professor in his 30s and a closeted player living in potentially unsafe circumstances. There’s a strong thread of white deafness here, too – how white friends can ask things like, “Should I get dreadlocks?”, or provoke their “black friend” into speaking for the POC community to get the “different” point of view. Keira and her sister, Steph, come from a solid family, and Keira’s boyfriend, Malcolm, who wants black men and women to rise up together, but whose more radical worldview conflicts with many of Keira’s ideals.
Breathtaking characters that live off the page and in the imagination, fast-paced dialogue and a plot that just won’t quit make Slay required reading for upper tweens, teens, and adults alike. Give Slay all the awards, please.
Slay isn’t out until September, but you can catch an excerpt here at EW’s website. Bustle has a great piece on Slay and another excerpt, if you’re dying for more. Publisher’s Weekly has an article about Black Panther‘s influence on author Brittney Morris, which comes through in a big way through the pages of Slay, and the Slay website has sample cards from the game that you’ll love.