In SLAY, you can defeat your opponent with a twist-out that morphs your hair into thick arm-like ropes, shoot lasers from your eyes and hands like Black Jesus, or entrap your opponent completely in the gooey goodness that is like mom’s mac and cheese.
It is also the only place in Kiera Johnson’s world where you can create an avatar from a selection of skin tones that range from the warm undertones of Zendaya to the deep richness of Lupita. Where you’ll find hundreds of hairstyles to choose from–Afros to cornrows and bantu knots to weaves.
SLAY is an invite-only VR role playing game where Black gamers converge to experience and celebrate the hallmarks of Black culture and history free from the barrage of racial slurs and trolling found in other video games. There, players find community, build houses, craft items to trade, and duel with cards that give them special powers. Inside of SLAY, everyone is a king or queen and Kiera, whose avatar goes by Emerald, lords over all that exists in her Nubian oasis. Outside the game, she’s just a seventeen-year-old math wiz hiding the fact that she’s the secret developer of a popular underground game from her friends, family, and her anti-video games boyfriend while grappling with being one of the only Black students at her high school.
That is until her game comes under fire by the media and labeled as racist, exclusionist, and an online hub for violence, thugs, and criminals. Not only does the attention bring forth scrutiny and calls for Emerald’s identity but it brings out an online troll whose entry into their sanctuary threatens everything Kiera has built and places her ownership of SLAY at risk.
Brittany Morris’ YA debut is a fun, light read perfect for fans who love video games, STEM heroines, and Black culture. SLAY’s virtual world is vividly drawn, bringing to mind the lush scenes found in the Marvel’s Black Panther movie. Which is unsurprising since the movie inspired Morris to create SLAY! Aside from SLAY being a pretty awesome game on its own, the cultural references make it even more entertaining especially if you’re familiar with them. If your mom’s Mac and Cheese is not gooey enough for you to get stuck in it she’s not doing it right. #FightMe
If you’re not familiar with the references don’t worry you won’t be lost. Morris does well to explain them to readers so you’ll walk away understanding the power of a pair of fresh clean J’s. Redbull ain’t the only thing that gives you wings.
What Morris does exceptionally well in SLAY is tackle important topics like gaming culture and the racism that exists within it toward Black gamers. She also delves into the harmful rhetoric of the media, and white and Black people alike, and doesn’t shy away from exploring some of the damaging ideals of Black identity through her characters.
While there are moments when readers must suspend their beliefs SLAY‘s culturally infused world and hot topic themes make it one of the best YA releases of the year.
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