Simon & Schuster, September, 2019 321 pages
Kiera is a high school senior at a prestigious prep school where she feels too black for her white friends, yet outside of school feels also feels like she doesn’t exactly fit. In order to find a place where she feels totally herself, Kiera develops SLAY, an on-line role-playing game based on African-rooted culture. Only black people are allowed to play, making a safe community where the players do not feel judged and can be themselves. SLAY flies under the world-wide radar until a teen in Kansas City gets murdered over a SLAY related incident. Now the whole world knows about SLAY and is calling it dangerous and racist, since it leaves out folks of other races. People are clamoring to discover who the creator is and Kiera fears for her life. Time spent outside the gaming world is also complicated, as her boyfriend is pressuring her to make a college decision and is verbally against the game and its creator. Kiera, herself, feels torn as guilt about the death of the teen makes her question the world of which she has created. Support comes from unexpected places as Kiera learns the true identities of some of the players and fights to save the game and to keep it safe for the community she has cultivated, who depend on this safe place. A new player enters the SLAY world and is challenging its very existence. Kiera must duel the new enemy in order to save the game. Will she lose it all? And who is this mysterious enemy?
This new title by debut author Brittney Morris is a much anticipated fall release. Inspired by Black Panther, the author wanted to create the same kind of community she felt while seeing the movie. In creating SLAY, this is achieved. SLAY is a role-playing card game, much like Dungeons and Dragons, yet seeped in black culture. Morris questions the right for any race, white or black, to exclude other races, yet displays the need for members of the black community to have safe spaces where they can feel totally themselves. Teens love video games and books that are partly told in a virtual world will find a hungry audience. I love that our hero is a smart girl who codes-who also has a fearless, spunky, and super cool sister. I totally would want to hang out with these girls and they serve as a strong inspiration to female readers, who will also be applauding when Kiera sees the light about her boyfriend and learns that she will survive without him. The book reads quickly and is an excellent choice for reluctant readers. It has an enticing cover that will help sell the book to the target audience. Kiera's guilt about the murdered boy disappears a bit too quickly, and other plot points seem a bit contrived, but teen readers won't care. They will devour this book and wish that they could log into a world similar to SLAY and get their aggressions out in the arena.