Through the novel, they discuss the merits of African American Vernacular English (AAVE), make commitments to attend HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), and resist their white friends attempts to make them the monolithic voice of blackness in answering their questions (like whether a white person wearing dreadlocks is committing an error of cultural appropriation). Kiera considers these topics as she strives to be a good daughter, to dampen the tension between her sister and boyfriend, and to lay the foundation for a successful future.
Beyond her public life, however, Kiera has a hidden identity as Emerald, the creator, developer, and co-moderator of SLAY, a video game “where every word [she] speak[s] reflects the black goddess [her boyfriend] sees in [her]” (9). Malcolm, however, disapproves of video games, which he thinks encourage black people to “waste their lives” and serve as “distractions promoted by white society to slowly erode the focus and ambition of black men” (10). Kiera feels, partially because of his disapproval, that she cannot let anyone in on her secret. Instead, she and Cicada, her co-moderator, work in hiding to develop the game and to expand its cards, which reflect elements of black history and culture from around the world. Their creativity, based on experience and thorough research, has resulted in a phenomenon for hundreds of thousands of players that is open only to black people.
When a young black man is killed because of something within the game, SLAY becomes the center of a public debate that Kiera tries to navigate from her secret life. She must decide what responsibility lies with her as the media--and her friends and family--consider the implications of a video game that excludes anyone who is not black.
Morris’s book, dedicated “To everyone who has ever had to minimize who you are to be palatable to those who aren’t like you,” grabbed me from moment one. The novel moves sequentially through Kiera’s journey as she struggles to act responsibly as SLAY’s creator and to stay true to her intentions; it also includes vignettes from players within the game, allowing the reader to see the role SLAY plays in each life. The discussions at the novel’s center are compelling and thought provoking--I’d absolutely love to teach this book, which offers such nuanced situations for the reader’s consideration. I am so excited to see the conversations that arise when Brittney Morris’s SLAY is published!
Hey all! Sara here! I am going to talk to you today about a book I absolutely adored. It was one of those books that came at exactly the right time for me as a reader. AND if you know me from the podcast, you know that I am a pretty slow reader and I zipped right through this one.
The book is told in first person in alternating perspectives, in alternating timelines. First, we meet Annika. It is 2001 in Chicago and she runs into her college boyfriend, Jonathan, who she has never quite gotten over. Jonathan, the other voice in the book, is a divorcée working a high stress job in finance. When Annika runs into Jonathan in a chance encounter at the market and finds out they have been living in walking distance of each other for years, they begin a tentative relationship to rekindle what they once had.
Through flashbacks in the alternate timeline of 1991, we discover the inception of Annika and Jonathan’s relationship, the path that it takes in their time together, and its demise.
First, I love a book in alternating perspectives. Second, I love a love story. Third, I love a book with interesting, layered characters. This book has all of this and so much more. I would be remiss not to mention the skillful way Graves develops the character of Annika, and how she reveals Annika’s quirks and growth to us throughout the narrative. She encapsulates both the struggle of adapting to others’ expectations of us and the revelation of being comfortable in our own skin in Annika’s story.
There is a twist of sorts in the story that I didn’t see coming–it may be that I wasn’t paying attention, because I was so wrapped up in the Annika and Jonathan, because after reflection, it made complete sense to me. If you read this, you MUST come back and let me know if you anticipated the twist or not.
I don’t want to give any further commentary for fear of spoiling this gem. I am fairly certain it will be one of my top reads of 2019. It is compelling, funny, heart-breaking, and inspiring–so much wrapped up in a fast-paced, quick read. I won’t soon forget Annika or Jonathan or their beautiful story.
P.S. My friend, Jen, had a bit of a different take on it. Maybe she will write her own review in the future.
A Note from Ashley, Jen, and Sara
We're pleased to share some of our book reviews with you all here. Note that the title of the post also indicates the author of the review. The books reviewed are linked for purchase.