REVIEW: SLAY by Brittney Morris

SLAY by Brittney Morris is about a 17-year old black girl named Kiera Johnson, who seemingly leads an ordinary life from the outside looking in. She lives in the suburbs of Anytown, USA with her parents and younger sister, Steph. She and Steph both attend Jefferson Academy, a preparatory high school where they, along with Kiera’s boyfriend Malcolm, are the only black students.

Having previously attended a predominantly-black school, Kiera is all too familiar with code-switching and being the “black authority” to her best friend Harper and her other classmates. Aside from holding it down as her boyfriend Malcolm’s “queen,” Kiera seems to have no safe space where she can just be herself.

That is, until we find out that she is not only a gamer, but game developer of super popular virtual reality game SLAY. It’s a multiplayer universe similar to Black Panther’s Wakanda, where Kiera reigns as character “Emerald.”

Kiera has been running this game for three years, while her family, friends, and even her boyfriend are none the wiser. No one realizes Kiera even plays video games. Kiera feels safe in her virtual fantasy world until tragedy strikes, bringing her perfectly crafted virtual oasis, SLAY to the headlines of international news.

Imagining the videogame SLAY was like falling into a hybrid of Emerald City from The Wiz and the Oasis from Ready Player One. I envisioned a beautiful technicolor dream in which I could don dazzling be-jeweled gowns, sport gravity-defying afros, and perform magic with a perfectly executed Michael Jackson spin-turned Running Man dance move.

All of the cultural references excited me. I have never read any book that references pieces of Black American culture such as “McDonald’s Money,” “the nay-nay,” and “Auntie’s Potato Salad.” SLAY will always stand out in my mind and my heart for that. These are the types of stories I relate to and stories my children will be able to relate to and see themselves in as well. It paints a pretty picture and creates a virtual reality game I wish I had the opportunity to play and share with other kinfolk. It’s safe to say that I fell all the way in love with the idea of this book and the imagery it created in my mind.

Aside from the game SLAY and the safe space it created for the characters involved, I also loved the strong female characters. Not only was MC Kiera smart, she was driven, and very independent for a 17-year-old. Her younger sister Steph had a loyalty to her sister so strong, I wanted to stand up and clap each time she assured Kiera she had her back. And fellow gamer Claire was also academically gifted and fierce, letting Kiera know she had her back as well. I loved how these characters were all strong and supportive, had strong bonds, and exemplified true friendship.

While I loved so many things about SLAY, there were a few things I wish I could have seen executed more clearly. I had a hard time understanding Kiera’s connection to her boyfriend Malcolm outside of her appreciation of his being “woke.” I don’t feel like we get the chance to see her relationship with Malcolm beyond the surface level. I believe we as readers are told about their connection more than we are shown. And for this reason, I don’t feel like what happens with him (as far as the ending goes) satisfies me. I won’t give any spoilers here, but I don’t feel like the ending gave me the closure I needed.

All in all, SLAY is an experience I urge young readers and lovers of Contemporary Young Adult Fiction to pick up and enjoy as soon as you can. I think there’s a little something in there for all of us to enjoy and have meaningful discussions about.

Thank you so much to Simon Pulse and Netgalley for the ARC of SLAY by Brittney Morris. 

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (3.75 stars)

Will you be checking out SLAY by Brittney Morris? 

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