I got this book for my 19th birthday a couple of years ago and finally read it. I absolutely adored it, and think that the slash on the cover of my copy (curtesy of a box cutter) adds to the cover design.
Black Panther meets Ready Player One. A fierce teen game developer battles a real-life troll intent on ruining the Black Panther-inspired video game she created and the safe community it represents for black gamers. By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honours student, a math tutor, and one of the only black kids at Jefferson Academy. By night, she joins hundreds of thousands of black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend, Malcolm. But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, SLAY is labelled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Driven to save the only world in which she can truly be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?
This book is a joy to read. I loved every page. I didn’t know a lot about videogames going into this book, but the premise sounded too good to not read it, and I am so glad that I did. The game is well explained in a way that allowed me (a white non-gamer) to understand what was happening and why it was important. Morris did a great job of conveying to me the importance of certain cultural references without over-explaining them. I don’t know the true impact of each of the cards in the game – they are not from my culture and that’s okay- but I got a sense of their value and the importance of them being talked about in the game/book.
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. It’ brings tears to my eyes if I think about it too long.
The plot of the book is simple but I adored it, the characters are complex and everything is explored thoroughly. Furthermore the odd chapters from different characters around the globe showcase the black diaspora and how the intersectionality between race, nationality, gender and sexual orientation come together to shape people’s lives. This book highlights black and gaming culture in a way that celebrates both whilst still showing how each is perceived by society as a whole. I look forward to reading more books by the author in the future.