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Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* So often, Black gamer girls and Black girls in STEAM are overlooked. However, Morris unapologetically brings both identities front and center with her explosive debut. Seventeen-­year-old gamer Kiera Johnson finds that being Black leaves her largely ostracized from the larger gaming community. As a result, she ingeniously creates SLAY, her own online virtual reality game that becomes more than a hobby—it becomes a community for thousands of Black gamers to embody Nubian personae in a role-playing game. The game functions as Kiera's refuge from the racism and traumas of the outside world. But her precious, necessary safe space is threatened when a player is killed due to an in-game dispute. It creates a stir in the media and paints SLAY in a negative light. The game is stereotyped much like many Black people are; it's being called violent and criminal; and it's charged with being racist and exclusionary. Suddenly, Kiera is faced with the need to both protect her game and keep her identity as the developer secret. This excels at depicting everyday life for Black teens and the very specific struggles Black teens face. More than a novel, this is a conversation about safe spaces, why they're necessary for minorities, and why we should champion their right to exist without being branded exclusionary or racist. Grades 9-12. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Morris's not-to-be-missed YA debut explores gaming culture and the diversity of the African diaspora. When black teen Kiera Johnson creates a virtual reality game called SLAY as a safe space for black gamers, she knows she must keep her identity as its developer secret. Her black boyfriend, Malcolm, insists that video games are "a distraction promoted by white society," her parents will disapprove of her embracing certain aspects of black culture, and the students at her predominantly white school just won't understand what a game by and for black people really means. But when the massively popular game's existence is threatened after a dispute results in a player's murder and the media stirs controversy, a new player emerges, forcing Kiera to wager the game's control in a duel to maintain her secret identity and avoid a discrimination lawsuit. This tightly written novel will offer an eye-opening take for many readers and speak to teens of color who are familiar with the exhaustion of struggling to feel at home in a largely white society. Told from Kiera's point of view with peeks into the minds of other characters, and peppered with easily accessible references to black culture, teens and adults alike will race through every page, relating to the importance of online friends, sharing Kiera's desire to make the world a better place, and discovering that blackness is impossible to define. Ages 12–up. Agent: Quressa Robinson, the Nelson Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly.

School Library Journal Reviews

Gr 7 Up—Kiera Johnson is a 17-year-old African American girl attending a predominately white high school. She tries to fit in by keeping her head down and her grades up. However, her classmates often see her as a reluctant spokesperson for an entire race of people. Her sister and boyfriend want her to be more combative, and her mother wants her to be more docile. Kiera's best friend, Harper, often unwittingly adds fuel to the fire by asking pointed race-based questions of her own. The mental gymnastics involved in constantly having to code switch to fit in with everyone else's idea of black womanhood is exhausting for Kiera. In an effort to keep her sanity, she secretly creates an exclusive online role-playing game called Slay. Characters duel using elaborately designed cards that highlight the diversity of the black experience. Kiera and her moderator, Cicada, manage to hide their identities while providing a much-needed respite for the black gaming community. Kiera's carefully constructed facade is threatened when one of the players of Slay is murdered. Now Kiera has to decide how far she's willing to go to protect the oasis she created for her community. VERDICT This book adds another layer to the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo narrative. Readers are invited to learn about the black experience in game culture through a compelling new lens. Exploring different versions of the African American experience, this is an important title for public and school libraries.—Desiree Thomas, Worthington Library, OH

Copyright 2019 School Library Journal.

Author Biography

Brittney Morris is the author of SLAY and The Cost of Knowing. She is also the founder and former president of the Boston University Creative Writing Club. She holds a BA in economics. You can find her online at and on Twitter or Instagram @BrittneyMMorris. - (Simon and Schuster)


Hiding her identity as the developer of an elite online role-playing game, a talented teen, one of the only Black students in her school, is targeted with violent racism when an in-game dispute escalates into a player’s murder. 150,000 first printing. Simultaneous eBook. - (Baker & Taylor)

An honors student at Jefferson Academy, seventeen-year-old Keira enjoys developing and playing Slay, a secret, multiplayer online role-playing game celebrating black culture, until the two worlds collide. - (Baker & Taylor)

A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2019!
&;Gripping and timely.&; &;People
&;The YA debut we&;re most excited for this year.&; &;Entertainment Weekly
&;A book that knocks you off your feet while dropping the kind of knowledge that&;ll keep you down for the count. Prepare to BE slain.&; &;Nic Stone, New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin and Odd One Out

Ready Player One meets The Hate U Give in this dynamite debut novel that follows a fierce teen game developer as she battles a real-life troll intent on ruining the Black Panther&;inspired video game she created and the safe community it represents for Black gamers.

By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are partially responsible for the &;downfall of the Black man.&;

But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for &;anti-white discrimination.&;

Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process? - (Simon and Schuster)

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