"Slay" is a double entendre. It means to greatly impress and to annihilate. Brittney Morris’s debut young-adult novel, SLAY, does just that. It tells the story of a young Black woman who has to be twice as much as her peers while secretly blaming herself for a senseless homicide that happened far from home.
Enter the dichotomous world of Kiera, a game developer living on the outskirts of Seattle who dreams of attending an HBC. She's a student at Jefferson Academy, a high school where she’s one of a small handful of other Black and Brown kids, including Steph, her sister, and Malcolm, her boyfriend. Kiera is the creator of SLAY, a popular massively multiplayer online role-playing card game.
Pick a card
The game is comprised of cards like Jimi Hendrix, Swerve, Not Your Auntie’s Potato Salad, or a Twist-Out card that grows the user’s hair into two monstrous ropes that make an opponent immobile. There’s even Purple Rain, which clouds an opponent’s vision.
Kiera has several thousand of these cards that are all nods to Black culture. And no one knows that Kiera is the developer—not her family nor her friends, who are critical of the game’s ‘exclusive’ aspect. The game requires a ‘passcode’ to be allowed to play. Only Black gamers share invitations with each other. Kiera has created a virtual safe space, but it isn’t safe for long.
Death of innocence
When a Black teen gets murdered over a dispute in the game, SLAY is assailed by mainstream media. Kiera’s game is labeled racist and exclusionist, and a troll in the game threatens to sue Kiera for ‘anti-white discrimination.’
The novel grapples with questions of identity, and its evidence of Morris’s own personal experience. The book opens with Morris's note to the reader: “I grew up thinking my blackness was a caricature that I could put on when I wanted acceptance…but when I hung around my black friends, kind and accepting as they were, I felt like an outsider…I began to wonder: If I was too black for my white friends, and not black enough for my black friends, then what was I?”
SLAY teeters along the precarious thread of identity and belonging throughout the prose. Kiera finds herself uncomfortable in conversations about her Blackness with her white friends at school. Malcolm and Steph volunteer rhetoric that coils Kiera’s perception of herself as a Black woman.
Kiera explores her disorientation with her place in the world and her disconcertedness around the homicide with her online friend Cicada, who’s got identity issues of her own as a young Black woman living in Paris. And the internal tug-of-war only worsens for both of them as the novel progresses.
Morris’s debut is smooth and bracing without being didactic, offering pertinent sociopolitical messaging. She diffuses the tension with quirky characters and persistent but cautious optimism. Some may compare SLAY to Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, but Brittney Morris has composed a narrative that is far more accessible and sensitive to home.
I wish I had had a book like SLAY during my adolescence when I, too, was spending all my free time developing video games in RPG Maker and talking with friends in AOL chatrooms wondering if I was the only one like me.
Consider this my frenetic invitation for you to join SLAY.