by Brittney Morris
* * * Stars (Pretty good)
Teenager Kiera Johnson is the developer of the online RPG SLAY, which she created initially to showcase her character, Emerald, but which has become a phenomenon in its own right. It celebrates Blackness and Black culture and Black history and provides a safe place for Black gamers to come together and slay without having to deal with all the racist crap that’s thrown at them in other online spaces/communities. Although she’s proud of what she’s created (along with co-developer Cicada, based in France), Kiera doesn’t feel like she can share her accomplishments with her family, friends, or even her boyfriend Malcolm – none of them would understand. So, she’s keeping her true self on the down-low. But when one of the players – Jamal, a teen like herself – is murdered in real life for actions he took in game, everything Kiera has built is called into question. The media is calling her game racist, and there’s talk of lawsuits. Kiera also feels terribly responsible for what happened to Jamal. Kiera has some tough decisions ahead of her in determining the fate of SLAY and coming out as its creator.
A book about a teen female black game developer? HECK YES. The SLAY universe is pretty cool – the cards that the players use to battle one another are clever and give players powers/abilities based on Black icons and cultural references (often with a humorous twist). Kiera’s relationship with Malcolm never really rings true, however – she barely has time for him, and practically every interaction they have sets off alarms (why are you WITH him?). I kept wondering if I’d missed a previous book that properly set up their romance (Kiera mentions some past events that cemented their relationship and got them transferred to a new school). Some of the decisions that she makes are TRULY QUESTIONABLE and DOWNRIGHT OUTRAGEOUS – like agreeing to hand over her entire game if she loses a duel to a troll who joins specifically to harass her and other players (surely there’s a Code of Conduct that you can fall back on to ban players who violate the rules?). Thank goodness for her younger sister, Steph, who makes Kiera see some sense. (review of audio edition)
Reviewed by YA Librarian