Monday 3 February 2020
Book Review: SLAY by Brittney Morris
Honors student Kiera Johnson - along with her sister Steph, one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy - is hard-working, helpful, and hiding a big secret. She's the developer of SLAY, an card-based VR MMORPG for Black people which she created after being sickened by the racism she faced playing similar games. In her virtual world, as Emerald, she's beloved by other SLAYers, and she's proud of the work she's put into making a space to celebrate Black excellence. Then a SLAYer misses an important match, only to be found dead in real life, and the game is all over the news - with white people screaming about how racist it is not to let them play, and a troll bullying SLAYers and taunting Kiera. Can she deal with being under attack from what seems like all sides?
This sounded like a really unique idea for a book and Brittney Morris definitely delivers that. I love the care that's gone into creating the world of SLAY, with every card a nod to Black culture and history - the love that both the main character and the author clearly have for the subject of each and every one of the cards shines through. A+ world building for sure! I also really liked most of the characters; Kiera's a great main character who's done an incredible job of creating this world and now has to deal with the possible ramifications, while her more hot-headed sister Steph is wonderful and I love the way the relationship between the pair of them changes throughout the book. Another major relationship is with her co-mod for the game, who she initially knows only by a username, but finds out more about as the novel progresses; I really liked this one too. In addition, the relationship between the two sisters and their parents, who are relaxed about boys but strict about spending time as a family together, and hugely supportive, is a very well-portrayed one and they're more present than many YA parents are. It's also intriguing to compare Keira, who has built the SLAY community for Black people but who has white friends, with her boyfriend Malcolm, who hates video games and is far more anti-white than she is, constantly reading in an attempt to decolonise himself.
I thought that for the most part, the book was very well-paced - indeed, my one of my complaints was an incredibly strange one for me; it felt slightly too short if anything! We got to see a few one-off chapters from the POV of other SLAYers and I'd have been really interested in either seeing a few more of them, or returning to those POVs later in the book as well. In addition, while the book builds to an superbly exciting climax, the resolution after the climax feels kind of rushed. My other complaint is VERY spoilery so I'll try and be vague; I felt that as jaw-dropping as the climactic scene was, a major part of it didn't quite work for me in the context of the story.
Despite these slight misgivings, this is so exciting that it's a definite recommendation. I love Morris's action-packed writing style and I'm super-excited to see what she does next.
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