Trying to convince your gamers that there are good books out there? | Mentoring in the Middle

Trying to convince your gamers that there are good books out there?

 Let's be real.  I'm not a gamer.  But I could totally visualize what was happening in this book and I know my students would love it.  There's a lot to like.

I remember when my students passed Ready, Player One from one kid to the next.  The gamers especially felt like they had an author who "got them" but lots of other students liked it for the action.

Slay is that kind of book.  But it's so much more than that, too, and it has several aspects worth noting.

1.  The protagonist isn't a stereotype 

Kiera is a smart, Black, affluent high school senior in a predominantly white school.  She holds her own with her friends while she acknowledges that being Black in a white school takes a lot of energy.

She doesn't love when white kids ask questions as though she speaks for all people of color.  She doesn't love when they wonder if it's cool to appropriate Black culture, like when her friend, Harper, asks

"'I need to, like, ask you, though, and don't be afraid to say no,' she begins.  'Am I allowed to get dreadlocks?'

Oh, what a question.  Is she allowed to get dreadlocks?  She's asking permission to wear a hairstyle that's been debated by people of many races for years and years as to whether its appropriating Black culture."

2.  A video game fills a much-needed void

Kiera played video games for a while, especially the popular Legacy of Planets, and she knows that racism exists there just like it does in real life.  

So, she decides to create her own game, SLAY, where Black people are celebrated for being as multifaceted, resilient, and colorful as they are in real life.  

There must have been a need.  500,000 people have joined the game.

"Kings and queens, you know the drill.  We are here first and foremost to celebrate Black excellence in all its forms, from all parts of the globe.  We are different ages, genders, tribes, tongues, and traditions.  But tonight, we are all Black.  And tonight, we all SLAY."

3.  Blackness is celebrated from multiple angles

SLAY is a world where being Black is celebrated from a global point of view.  I think that's important for American readers to appreciate.  This book reminds us that there are people of color in every country and culture on this planet.

Readers are introduced to the world of Black gamers and you cheer for the safe space that 
SLAY means to them.  

Like many video games, each player gets to design his or her own costume and name.  Players wear "dashikis, Mursi lip plates, otjize clay, Ulwaluko blankets, Marley twists, Michael Jackson's glove...."  Readers may not know what all of these are, but they'll recognize that they celebrate the variety of people around the globe.

4.  The book is written from several points of view

I thought it was interesting that the author gave thought to write some chapters from the perspective of different players around the world.  These players are of all ages and from a variety of cultures, and still, you see their enthusiasm, their thinking, and their strategizing.  And you realize how wonderful a  safe space this game is for them.

Which makes it all the more real when a young boy is killed.  Because of the game.

5.  There's enough realistic action and mystery to keep you guessing

The young man's death makes the news.  Accusations are flung about the racist and exclusionary nature of SLAY.

Reporters want the man who developed the game to come forward.  Riiigghht.  Because only men create video games.

Kiera has kept SLAY from everyone, her boyfriend, her parents, her sister, and her friends.  Online, people only know her as Emerald.  Now, as she wonders if she caused the young man's death, she also fears that her identity will be revealed.  She fears being sued.

The action-packed climax takes a few twists and turns, which will have the reader holding on for dear life!

My hat is off to Brittney Morris for her very imaginative debut in the publishing world.  Her descriptions didn't leave this non-gamer wanting.  

If I had to criticize anything, it's the development (or lack of) in the character of Malcolm, Kiera's boyfriend of several years, a proud young Black man whom you don't see change over the course of the book, making his character increasingly less interesting.

This is a good one for your shelves!

Content Warning: Swearing, references to having sex

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