Cover of Slay: Black girl with curly hair and glasses looking directly ahead, with a digitizing effect/filter applied to part of the cover image

About the Book

Title: Slay
Published: 2019
Swoonworthy Scale: 3

Cover Story: Fierce
BFF Charm: Yay
Talky Talk: Own Voices
Bonus Factors: Diversity, Video Games
Anti-Bonus Factor: Racism
Relationship Status: I’ll Be Your Ally

Cover Story: Fierce

I absolutely love this girl’s style and the “don’t mess” look on her face. However, this doesn’t tell someone who’s just picked up the book anything about it. That’s not always a bad thing, because it gives nothing away, but in this case it might have been good to lean a little on the video game themes of the story.

The Deal:

As one of the only black kids in her suburban Washington high school, Kiera’s struggled with being “the voice of blackness” for her friends. It’s not that she doesn’t appreciate them asking questions, it’s just that the questions are often problematic, even if they’re well-meaning. Kiera longs for a place where she doesn’t have to be the “other,” and that play is Slay, an online, virtual reality card battle game … that no one knows she’s the creator of.

When a young man is murdered over an in-game issue, both Slay and Kiera are thrust into the national spotlight, somewhere Kiera never wanted to be.

BFF Charm: Yay

Yay BFF Charm

Kiera is a strong-willed, talented young woman who’s definitely going places. With the help of only one other person (and some donated graphics), she’s built an expansive VR game that’s played by people all over the world. As someone who got a C/D in her only computer science course in college—don’t tell my parents—I would love to have someone like her in my life to help me struggle through and help my brain process certain things it just doesn’t want to learn.

I’d try really hard to never ask stupid white girl questions or make her feel like an outsider. I’d also ask her to call me on it immediately if I ever did.

Swoonworthy Scale: 3

Although Kiera talks a lot about how much she loves her boyfriend, Malcolm, the only black guy at their high school, he’s … kind of awful? And I don’t think she really likes him? (He certainly doesn’t know the real her …)

Talky Talk: Own Voices

When I first started reading Slay, I had the fleeting thought that this book wasn’t for me—and then I immediately mentally slapped myself and said, “that’s a GOOD thing.” I’m a white woman who grew up in mostly white communities. I’ve never had the experience of being in Kiera’s shoes. But that means it’s important for me to read books like this, to expand my views, and—most importantly—it’s good that books like Slay exist for young people who are like Kiera.

I appreciate how Morris incorporated her personal love of video games into this novel. The conversation around the black-only VR game is a great “starter” for the topic of race relations on a larger scale, but I feel like more actual YAs would be interested in a novel about a video game than some lecture in a social studies class.

Bonus Factor: Diversity

Faces of all different races, ethnicities and genders.

All of the main characters in Slay are black. The only white folk we really get to know are Kiera’s friends, both of whom make stupid, insensitive comments that might seem stereotypical on the surface are probably all-too accurate. (And it’s good that the white characters get the tropey treatment!) And even though this book is about race relations and racism, it’s not really an issues book. Just a book about one non-white person’s experience, which we need more of in YA.

Bonus Factor: Video Games

Video game controller

Although I’ve never experienced a VR game, the universe of Slay sounds near-enough like MMORPGs that I’ve played in the past for me to somewhat comprehend the game. I love the fact that Kiera (and Morris, natch) used aspects of black culture from all over the world as the “powers” in the game. (For example, the Michael Jordan card gives players the ability to jump really high.) There were a few names/things that I had to look up, but that’s a good thing.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Racism

cropped view of woman holding carton placard with stop racism sign on red background

I wish this didn’t have to be a part of Kiera’s story, but it is. And she handles it with grace and intelligence. I, on the other hand, wanted to rip someone a new one.

Relationship Status: I’ll Be Your Ally

I might not totally get you, Book, but I am very glad you exist. And I’m going to do what I can to make myself a better person because I want you to be glad I do as well.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Simon Pulse, but got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. Slay is available now.

Mandy (she/her) is a manager at a tech company who lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, son, and dogs. She loves superheroes and pretty much any show or movie with “Star” in the name.