SLAY is such a powerful book. It’s about a teenage girl Kiera who develops an online game that celebrates Black culture and becomes a safe space for Black gamers around the world. Until a teen gets killed over the game. SLAY hits mainstream media, and is immediately labeled a racist, violent, exclusionary space for thugs and gang members. And an anonymous troll infiltrates the game and threatens to sue Kiera for discrimination.
I love Kiera and her co-developer and game moderator Cicada. I love that the Black culture references within Slay are international and not just American (e.g. Fufu – look it up). I love that the game is played by such a broad diversity of people from around the world (e.g. Cicada is French). I love how the author gives some of these players a chapter of their own to really show the incredibly varied impacts this game had on their lives (e.g. a trans teen still in the closet, a man in Hong Kong constantly being asked for selfies, the children of a political commentator).
I also love that within Kiera’s family and friends, the author shows a broad range of experiences with Black culture, from Kiera’s super political sister, to Kiera’s boyfriend with his super rigid views on being the “right” kind of Black person, to Kiera’s well-meaning but at-times cringey best friend (who asks Kiera if she’s allowed as a white person to get dreadlocks), to the best friend’s definitely cringey and feeling-woke-but-really-racist brother (who straight up harasses Kiera for her opinion on the dreadlocks question).
The book tackles some heavy issues (e.g. a boy is killed over the game, Kiera and her sister Steph have a conversation about police brutality), but the overall feel is one of hope and joy. Partly that’s because Kiera, Cicada and Steph are just incredibly kickass young women. And partly because each scene that takes us into the world of the game Slay is a straight-up celebration of Black culture. There’s an almost overwhelming joy in how the players approach the game, and in how they inhabit the space that Slay provides, that this feeling positively spills over from the page. So when a troll infiltrates the game and threatens everything Kiera and Cicada have worked so hard to built, I found myself furious at the possibility, and cheering with all my heart for the troll to be vanquished. No spoilers, but there’s a scene when players from around the world all shared a bit of their reality within the virtual world of the game, and it just pulled hard at my heartstrings.
There’s a section where Kiera reflects on how all the references to Black experiences within the game Slay (e.g. a card called “McDonald’s money”) won’t mean as much to non-Black people. They may learn the abilities / powers of each game card, but the nuance and significance of what the cards represent will be over their heads. I get that. And all I can say is, this book was incredibly powerful to me, an Asian-Canadian woman.
I can only imagine how much more this book will resonate with Black readers, and especially teen girls who can see themselves in Kiera’s shoes.
Thanks to Simon and Schuster Canada for an e-galley in exchange for an honest review.