Saturday, July 18, 2020

Book Review | Slay

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Rating ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

First let's take a moment and admire the fierce cover, shall we? SLAY itself especially pops with the bright purple-pink. It is news to no one who frequents my blog that I am a cover snob, and I 100% love this one.

Next, I want to say that this book was not written for me, so my opinions are definitely not the ones you should be seeking first. I am still going to talk about the book, because I loved it and it was so beautifully written, but as a 30-something white woman in the Midwest, I am not the target audience. I appreciate this fact though, and I truly hope others like me read this and learn from it.

I could not put this book down and finally must've fallen asleep sometime after two or three because I woke up a few hours later with the book open over my face. Then I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and finished the book because it is THAT. DAMN. GOOD.

The book revolves around the life of high school student Kiera Johnson. She is brilliant, an honors student who also happens to have a secret identity. While she is one of the only Black students at her high school, once she goes home she becomes Emerald, creator of worlds so amazing, I want them to be real. Of course, I could not play it, but I would still be happy that it exists because it would be freaking amazing. Kiera has created an incredibly popular multi-player online role-playing game called SLAY. Not one single person in her life knows this.

I do want to pause a moment here and comment on this very issue, which I saw in a few reviews, the idea that it would be impossible for her to do this, run this game, code it, and keep such a popular game that has hundreds of thousands of players continuously up and running. You know what I say to that? How do you know? The only part I do agree with is how her identity was kept a secret for so long as the developer. Gamers can be sneaky and not-so-sneaky d-bags, especially when they are stupid boys who get all upset when females want to "invade their space". But either way, it never bothered me and it should not stop you from reading this thoughtful and thought-provoking novel.

Kiera is a well-rounded and interesting character. I loved spending time with her, understanding how her mind worked and why she developed the game to begin with. Her purpose was to give Black gamers a safe place online where they could play and be part of a community, away from racist cave-dwellers who think nothing of tossing off racial slurs to their fellow gamers because of the color of their skin. The game incorporated so many aspects of Black culture and history, and I especially loved the passages that dealt with the game-play itself. The game allows players to battle one another using a variety of cards that each showcase some aspect of Black culture, community, history, entertainment, everyday life, etc. And this is not just limited to the Black community of the US, but the worldwide Black community. These cards each hold a degree of power and must be used strategically in order to defeat your opponent.

The problem arises, however, when virtual reality bled out into real life and a teenager who played often was murdered by another player due to a deal in the game, which I won't elaborate on because I am not trying to give away everything. Suddenly SLAY is thrust into the spotlight and this perfect, protected little piece of the Internet is threatened. Talking heads on talk shows shout about how the game is racist and exclusionary because only Black people are allowed to play it. They claim the game is violent and needs to be shut down, endangering all that Kiera has worked so hard to build. And to top it off, a new player appears and comes straight for Kiera, claiming that he will sue her for discrimination, even using the names 'Dred' and 'Scott' to hide his real identity. (I will be honest and say I did guess pretty early on who the troll was, but the book is written so beautifully that this reveal did not bother me or ruin my reading in the slightest. It was the most logical person, if one pays attention to words and behavior.)

There were many strong characters aside from Kiera. I appreciated her sisters Steph, who was also very much a no-filter, tell-it-like-it-is type of person. Kiera herself is strong and independent, but the sisters still needed each other and complimented one another well. I also liked getting the perspective of Cicada, who is a co-mod with Kiera and helps run the show. Her development was wonderful to see as well and despite never having met, it was obvious the two young women were meant to be best friends. I felt deeply for Cicada when she made the comment about not knowing if she was "Black enough" for the game. This is something I have heard some of my Black friends say as well, that they are "too Black sometimes, not Black enough other times". I can't even begin to imagine that struggle within myself, and in trying to fit in. Morris tackles this issue, and other serious ones head-on. I think she presents them in a way that is relatable for a wide audience, even though this book does not exist to teach white people - it is something we have to do ourselves, by reading books by Black authors who write Black characters, read fiction and non-fiction, and try to understand how our experiences in one physical world are so vastly different. This is important to remember because for once, white people get to experience this idea of being on the outside looking in, seeing this game created as a safe space for Black gamers, a space we are given glimpses of but not permitted to actually be in. It is an important feeling to deal with.

In closing, this book is fucking phenomenal. It would make an equally as great movie, which I hope becomes a thing.

Highly recommended.

8 comments:

  1. This sounds absolutely fascinating. I may not fit its target audience either but I might read it anyway!

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    1. I absolutely think you should. It is such a great novel and I am so glad I found it.

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  2. Yes! This is exactly the kind of story we should be amplifying and sharing with our young people!

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    1. EXACTLY! It is such a great read, give it a try when you have the chance.

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  3. "Gamers can be sneaky and not-so-sneaky d-bags, especially when they are stupid boys who get all upset when females want to "invade their space." Yes to this so much! As someone who occasionally plays multiplayer games, every time I've played as a female character, I've always gotten males frequently being rude to me in game... even though as a higher level player sometimes, I go out of my way to help out newer, lower level players (because I know exactly how it feels to be in their shoes with no one helping me).

    I'm really glad you enjoyed this, and lovely review! I remember seeing this awhile ago but I never really took a second glance (I probably added to my TBR at some point, maybe I didn't, who knows).

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    1. I am so sorry you have experienced this bullshit, what is it with mediocre white dudes thinking they have dominion over everything? It is EXHAUSTING just hearing about it all the time, I can't even imagine what it is like to actually be subjected to it.

      Thanks for coming by, I think it is a book you would enjoy. If you read it, I would love to chat about it with you and hear your thoughts!

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  4. Wow! I will be reading this one.

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    1. Good, it is absolutely stunning and I loved every moment of it. I can't wait to hear what you think!

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