SLAY

Book review by
Barbara Saunders, Common Sense Media
SLAY Book Poster Image
Girl's online life gets real in smart thriller.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The detailed descriptions of the online game Kiera creates offer an understanding of the player psychology, creative work, and technical skills that make up the online gaming world. References to being part of the African diaspora: Black people descended from Africans who were enslaved and shipped from Africa to Europe and the New World. 

Positive Messages

Being of service to others can enrich and even heal your life.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The author depicts a great diversity of Black people. Characters include STEM whizzes, a biracial girl from France, a businessman traveling in China, wealthy tech executives, and an over-the-top Afrocentric activist type.

Violence

A murder takes place. There's a nuanced depiction of emotional abuse in a teen romantic relationship.

Sex

Main character is sexually active with her boyfriend, in her parents' home with their permission. 

Language

Infrequent swearing includes "damn," "hell," and "f--k."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

In one passage, an emotionally abusive character uses drinking as an excuse for his mean behavior.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that SLAY is a novel about what happens after 17-year-old Kiera creates a virtual reality game called SLAY, a safe online space with access limited to Black people around the globe. Kiera lives in the high-tech community east of Seattle and is one of only four Black people at a prestigious private high school. Due to Kiera's coding talents and a compelling persona named Emerald, the game attracts hundreds of thousands of players. When a player is murdered in real life for hoarding game currency, a newcomer to the online world threatens Kiera with a lawsuit. She must fight to keep her identity secret and protect the community she's so lovingly built. The book contains a nuanced portrait of an emotionally abusive relationship between Kiera and her boyfriend, Malcom. The couple is sexually active in her parents' home, with their permission. In one passage, Malcolm blames mean behavior on his drinking. Infrequent swearing includes "damn," "hell," and "f--k."

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What's the story?

When SLAY begins, Kiera is juggling her STEM studies at a prestigious private high school, her boyfriend, and a secret. The secret is that she is the mastermind coder behind SLAY, an online virtual reality game for people in the African diaspora. She's created the game in response to the casual racism in the mainstream online gaming scene. In her game, the players refer to each other as "kings and queens," choose skin color that reflects the full range of possibilities among Black folk, and wield superpower cards representing Black culture and heroes. The game has gone global, with hundreds of thousands of players all over the world. But after a boy is murdered in real life for hoarding currency of the realm in a plot to ransom it for cash, Kiera's life gets complicated: First, television pundits and stuffy academics label her gaming community a "gang." Then a White supremacist manages to get the code and challenges her to a duel. If she refuses the duel, he says he'll sue. If she loses the duel, she might lose everything.

Is it any good?

Quirky and true to the nerd experience, this novel offers a thrilling ride with fun surprise plot twists. SLAY is Brittney Morris' first novel, but it reads like the work of a master writer. The development of characters and relationships is a strength. Readers can empathize with Kiera's struggles to navigate her different social relationships. There's her White best friend, Harper, who, along with her brother, Tyler, occasionally trip micro-aggression minefields; Malcolm, the self-absorbed boyfriend who manipulates Kiera; Kiera's loving father, mother, and sister; and Cicada, co-creator of SLAY, with whom Kiera develops teamwork and intimacy without ever meeting face to face. The book's one minor weakness is occasional lapses into dialogue that comes off like a lecture.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Kiera's relationship with Malcolm in SLAY. What does Malcolm mean when he complains about her failing to give him respect? How does Malcolm demonstrate lack of respect for Kiera?

  • The costumes and power cards in SLAY let players express their hopes and fears. What are some of your favorites, and why?

  • In a few chapters, the author leaves Kiera's point of view and narrates the story in the voice of another character. How do those voices influence your understanding of the game?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stories about tech, gaming, coding, and digital life

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