Kiera Johnson is unique in many ways. Not only is she one of the very few Black students at her elite private high school, but she is also a female who excels in math and computer programming. There are a lot of reasons why she doesn’t feel like she belongs when she is at school, but she is grateful to have a place where she feels right at home — in the virtual world of SLAY. Nobody in her “real life” circle knows that Kiera has created/designed this game. Heck, they don’t even know that she plays! She is particularly concerned with how her boyfriend might react because he believes that video games are a tool that contributes to the “downfall of the Black man.” She isn’t quite sure how she could explain to him (and her other friends and family) quite what it means to have a place where she can simply be herself without worrying if she will seem “too Black” to some people or “not Black enough” to others. But that is exactly what SLAY provides for her and all of the other players from around the world.
When a teenager in Kansas City is killed over an altercation related to SLAY, though, Kiera finds herself torn. Should she reveal her identity and actively defend the game now that people are blaming SLAY for his death? Could she actually be sued for discrimination over the fact that the game is only intended for Black players, as conservative pundits seem to believe? Would it put a strain on her relationship with friends and family members? This story does an excellent job exploring racial dynamics in America, particularly the idea of racism and exclusion as it applies to Black people wanting safe spaces in which to explore and celebrate their collective history. One of the most important ideas that this book puts forth is that Black experiences are unique and varied, and that idea is summed up very well by one of my favorite quotes from this book:
I think I love SLAY so much because we’re a mutually empathetic collective. As we duel, as we chat, there’s an understanding that “your Black is not my Black” and “your weird is not my weird” and “your beautiful is not my beautiful,” and that’s okay.