img_20191014_094958img_20191014_095107Kiera is a Black honors student at Jefferson Academy in Bellevue WA, where the student body is overwhelmingly white. Having transferred from a school where the majority of the student body consisted of students of color, Kiera has had to navigate social and cultural adjustments. She seems to have been successful in this, while hanging on to her own values and identity. However, to reclaim the feeling of societal ease she had before the move, she creates a highly successful online game targeted at an all-Black audience. Called SLAY, the game has more than half a million participants. Instinctively, she keeps herself anonymous so that no one (not even her boyfriend Malcolm, other friends, parents, and a sibling) are aware of her involvement.  Administering such a widely successful game is bound to mean some trouble, and trouble does develop between a few players, resulting in the murder of one of them.  When the media discovers he had been playing SLAY, a big brouhaha erupts about online gaming, the fact that SLAY could be labeled racist, etc.  Kiera is sick at heart and fearful that the unmasking of her identity will be dangerous for herself, other players, and those she loves.  This sets up quite an interesting scenario, and the author does an excellent job of plotting her way out of it.

This is a thoughtful book in examining tensions between maintaining cultural, familial identity and fitting into a bigger world that largely judges differently.  Her parents are solid and supportive but also concerned that their daughters succeed in the world at large. To them, this means curbing aspects of the Black culture (like colloquial Black speech) which mark them as minority citizens.  Kiera and her family seem to be balancing pretty well; Malcolm takes a more extreme, though understandable, view.  The author sets forth a lot for readers to consider, without coming down on any set answer.  It’s a good book for discussion.

The characters are sympathetic.  Kiera and Malcolm have a sexual relationship that parents tacitly endorse, but there is no explicit sex in the book.  The issue of domestic violence (Malcolm against Kiera) raises its head, and the author does an excellent job of setting up and then resolving the complexities of this situation. There is a large amount of coarse language as well as religious profanity.  I would think online gamers will enjoy this book.

Categories: Bullying, Civil Rights, Controversial YA Topics, Crime, Diversity, Navigating through High School, Offensive Language in YA Literature, Peer Relationships, Social Media

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