Posted in Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Get ready to SLAY!

Slay, by Brittney Morris, (Sept. 2019, Simon Pulse), $18.99, ISBN: 978-1534445420

Ages 12+

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.



Posted in Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Whodunit? Secrets, Lies, and Scandals

secrets liesSecrets, Lies, and Scandals, by Amanda K. Morgan, (July 2016, Simon Pulse), $17.99, ISBN: 9781481449540

Recommended for ages 14+

A much-loathed teacher dies. Five students are in the room. What happened? Who’s responsible? Most importantly, can they all keep it a secret, or will one of them break? Secrets, Lies, and Scandals tells the stories of five teens – all of whom have their own private crosses to bear – who have to come together to keep the circumstances under which their teacher died secret.

We’ve got Ivy, the mean girl who finds herself on the outs after a relationship gone bad; Tyler, the bad boy whose exhausting his last chance; Kinley, the perfect student with her own secrets; Mattie, who’s only in town for the summer, and really didn’t expect to find himself in a situation like this, and Cade, a repressed rage case who’s always looking for someone else to take the blame. He’s the master manipulator, and all he needs is an opening.

This is one of those novels that I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did. None of these characters are really likable, but that adds to the story, rather than distances the reader. What do you do when there’s not one decent character in the book? You dig in for a salacious read. It’s schadenfraude at its finest – I couldn’t wait to see what these characters were going to do next. It’s a well-constructed, fast-moving read that pulls you in and doesn’t let you go until the last page, when you’re likely to yell, just like I did.

I’m going to put this one in my YA collection and booktalk the daylights out of it. Sell it like it’s How to Get Away With Murder set in high school, or an updated version of I Know What You Did Last Summer. (Then explain I Know What You Did Last Summer, because you know you’re going to get blank stares.)

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Think you know Peter Pan? Read Lisa Maxwell’s Unhooked.

unhookedUnhooked, by Lisa Maxwell (Feb. 2016, Simon Pulse), $17.99, ISBN: 9781481432047

Recommended for ages 13+

Gwendolyn has never had a real home. Her mother has moved she and Gwen around for years, never staying too long in one place, always on the run from the monsters she swore were after them. Gwen is tired and frustrated at this latest move to a small apartment in London. Thankfully, her best friend, Olivia, is spending the summer with them.

Shortly after they arrive at the apartment, Gwen and Olivia are taken in the middle of the night by shadowy creatures. Separated from Olivia and desperate to find out what’s going on, she finds herself on a boat and demands that the Captain enlighten her. And that’s when she discovers that the monsters her mother always worried about weren’t just a figment of her imagination. Gwen is in Neverland, and Hook isn’t necessarily the one she has to watch out for. Now, she’s got to find Olivia and try to find their way home, but Pan isn’t planning on making things easy for anyone. He’s got an agenda, and the two girls have been brought to Neverland to help him accomplish it. He’s a sweet talker, especially compared to the harsh, brutal Hook, but Gwen has the feeling that Pan’s not all he seems to be…

This dark fantasy reimagining of Peter Pan will turn everything you think you know about Neverland and Peter Pan on its head. It’s a dark and brutal tale, with children dying in battle and evil faeries playing both sides. It’s fast-paced and well constructed, with smart, put-together characters and a painful World War I story gently woven into the overall narrative. You’ll try to place all the characters – I did – but just go with the narrative rather than try to fit every peg to a hole. For instance, I quickly figured that Gwen was Wendy, but where were Michael and John? There are parallels that could be drawn – no spoilers here – but in the end, Gwen is Gwendolyn, Hook is Hook, Pan is Pan, and Olivia is Olivia. These are their own characters, their own people, unique and individual in every way.

I don’t know whether this will turn into a series or a trilogy. This is a great stand-alone adventure and doesn’t need further explanation. Add to your fantasy collection; YA fairy tales are always good to have available to provide a comforting bridge to childhood with a decidedly grown-up spin to them.