by Brittney Morris
By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is a high school 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?
Keira Johnson is seventeen and she is in a high school where she is one of three or so black kids at school. She is also a game developer and has created a VR card dueler game named SLAY. The thing is, no one in her school knows, including her boyfriend and little sister. She goes by the name Queen Emerald in the game, and she spends most of her free time working to make sure the users of her game don’t face any glitches.
What I loved about this story is that Keira is a very strong character. She is smart, diplomatic, knows her mind, (except when it comes to her boyfriend) and she creates a safe platform welcome to anyone in search of a place they belong.
Slay delves heavily into race issues. They are part of Keira’s daily life, filled in conservations with her boyfriend, best friend, parents, and her little sister. Keira endures questions at school like whether it is okay for white folks to wear locs. If they do, whether or not it will insult the black culture. At all times, Keira wishes she were still back in her old school where she did not have to be the authority on such questions. The pressure can be too much.
Keira creates an exclusive game, SLAY, that only allows black people into the game. The moment it is discovered, a fierce debate starts on how right it is to create such an exclusive space. Keira takes it in stride and does her best to keep the game going and her members happy in the face of growing criticism.
What I did not love about Slay was the treatment of Keira’s boyfriend, Malcolm. He calls her a queen, so he is a king. He reads a lot, but his views on what he reads and what he takes in immediately present a challenge. He reads books written by black writers, only. He calls it decolonizing his mind. Malcolm’s character seems fine at the start. He and Keira have a great relationship and they are in love. Still, his opinions become worrying when he tells Keira she should not be playing video games, especially SLAY, not knowing she developed it. He also does not approve of Keira’s sister dating a boy who is not black. As Keira articulates, Malcolm believes, ‘… you can’t be for the advancement of black people if you’re dating someone who’s not black.’
Malcolm deteriorates from here, turning controlling and very scary when he starts believing Keira is ignoring him. He threatens her best friend and wants to shake Keira down in the school cafeteria because she won’t answer his calls. He turns into a villain after this, and I thought it was the saddest thing since Cadburys discontinued mint fudge in our region. Why would they be so cruel and unusual? I really miss these. Bring them back Cadburys. Anyway, Malcolm drew the short stick in SLAY, and I don’t support it. On a side note, Malcolm seems modeled after Killmonger from Black Panther.
In any case, I believe Slay is an important book to read. Keira is a very independent character, and she stands up for herself and the game she has created. The safe space she calls SLAY allows an international sisterhood and brotherhood to join in and just enjoy a game, being themselves.
My favorite quote from this book is: “As we duel, as we chat, there’s an understanding that “your black is not my black” and “your weird is not my weird” and “your beautiful is not my beautiful,” and that’s okay.”
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