Monday, December 30, 2019

Thought-Provoking SLAY an Intriguing, But Conflicting Tale

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As one of only a few Black students at her Seattle charter school, 17-year-old Kiera Johnson is used to being the "authority" on things like rap music, dreadlocks, gangstas, and slavery—even if she doesn't know a thing about the subject.  Unbeknownst to her classmates, or anyone really, Kiera actually is an expert on a popular Blacks-only virtual reality video game called SLAY.  In fact, she's the one who created it.  Longing for a protected space where she and other people like her could go to "celebrate Black excellence in all its forms," (31) she's spent the last three years designing and moderating the game.  In secret.  Her parents would be outraged that she's a gamer at all, let alone the maker of a controversial game.  And her Black boyfriend?  He'd lose it if he had any idea she used up so many hours on a time-waster like video games.
When a real-life murder occurs between two SLAY players fighting over game currency, Kiera is appalled.  She's even more disturbed when her beloved creation is labeled racist and violence-inducing.  As much as she longs to stand up for her game, Kiera can't risk exposing her identity.  But, when push comes to shove, she's forced to take action.  Will those actions unmask her as the creator of SLAY?  What will happen if it does?  Can Kiera defend and save her game or will her safe haven be shut down forever?

SLAY, a debut novel by Brittney Morris, asks some intriguing questions about online gaming, racism, Blackness, fitting in, and standing out.  As a white woman raising an adopted bi-racial child, I found the book's exploration of Blackness particularly eye-opening and insightful.  I'm not a video game fan, so that part of the novel struck me as as dull and headache-inducing as watching someone play a game.  Not gonna lie, I was tempted to skip all the in-game sections.  I didn't, but those scenes just didn't engage me at all.  Kiera was likable (in spite of her constant self-centeredness) as were her friends (other than racist, manipulative Malcolm).  The plot was compelling enough to keep me turning pages, but it contained a lot of illogical actions and weird dichotomies that drove me crazy.  For instance:  The recurring theme of being one's authentic self is an important one, but I couldn't understand how that works in a video game where everyone is hiding behind a false name, appearance, and a lot of times, personality.  That makes no sense at all.  I was also confused about why Kiera's addiction to gaming had to be a big secret.  My kids brag about being gamers!  I especially didn't get why it had to be kept from Kiera's parents—if they're "cool" with their underage daughter having sex with her (racist, manipulative) underage boyfriend in their house and they're not at all worried that their daughter spends endless hours cooped up in her room, are they really going to care that she's a gamer?  Again, totally illogical.  I could go on, but I won't.  Suffice it to say, I had some big issues with the plausibility of SLAY's whole setup, which took away from my enjoyment of the book.  Overall, I liked it enough to finish, but the novel
irritated me for a lot of reasons.  People's opinions seem to really vary on this one—it would make for a lively book club discussion! 

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a handful of F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, innuendo, and references to sex

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

1 comment:

  1. Huh. I've got this one on my TBR shelf so at least I'm going into it with some prior knowledge now. I may skip the gaming sections.

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