‘Color Me In’ and ‘Slay’ are two young adult novels that help readers understand what it’s like being the only “other” in a room

 

“Slay” by Brittney Morris and “Color Me In” by Natasha Díaz are two books that deal with young women, each of whom is the only person of color, or one of a few people of color, in a school. The situations are different, but both stories are gripping and difficult to put down. They are both movingly written, and should be in every middle school and high school library. Both should be required reading. And what a discussion would ensue.

slayIn “Slay,” main character Kiera Johnson is an honors student at her mostly white high school. Her best friend is Harper, a girl with short blond hair and very wealthy parents. Her boyfriend Malcolm is a serious guy with definite beliefs about what African Americans should do with their lives, and while Kiera doesn’t agree with everything he says, she respects him. Kiera’s own parents provide a solid middle class home for Kiera and her sister, Steph. What no one knows, not her best friend nor her family nor her boyfriend, is that Kiera created a virtual reality game, Slay, that over the past three years has become extremely popular with black people from young kids to adults.

Kiera created her game so that she’d have a place to play a virtual reality game that would be safe from discrimination after she was bullied in some other popular games. Kiera’s game is for “Nubian kings and queens,” and it’s supposed to be for black people only. She’s kept the game creation a secret, and the only other person who knows is someone halfway around the world who helps her moderate the game. They don’t know each other in real life.

When a child is killed over a deal regarding virtual coins from the game, Slay’s existence goes viral. Media blames the developer of the game for the death of the young teen, and Kiera’s world is rocked. Not in a good way. What happens and who supports her makes up the balance of the book, but along the way, readers learn a lot about diversity and how it feels to be the “other” in a room.

It’s a story that is exciting and thrilling, but also informative and real. (Simon Pulse)

“Color Me In” is a story that comes from the author’s heart. In many ways, Natasha Díaz is like Nevaeh, the color me inmain character of this story, who is half Jewish and half black. In fact, many of the incidents in the novel come from Díaz’s life, including the prologue.

Nevaeh and her mother are at the park when the mom of another child wants to set up a play date. She assumes, because Nevaeh looks white and her mother is black, that her mom is the nanny. It causes readers to sit back and think — would we have made the same mistake? Do we have the same assumptions that many white characters in the story have? Readers are cheering when Nevaeh sees a black girl being targeted at the farmers market and stands up for her. When the young girl reaches to pick up a jar of jam, the lady asks, “Can I help you?” in a voice “like an accusation.” “Just looking” the girl responds. Then, “Burning with shame, she walks to the far end of the tent, and the white lady repositions herself so she can still watch her out of the corner of her eye.” Nevaeh calls her out, her first step toward helping change the world.

When Nevaeh’s mom leaves her dad, they both go to Harlem, where her mom’s family lives. Aside from her now deceased grandmother, Nevaeh hasn’t known any of her extended family. Living with them and attending church with them is a huge change for her, although she keeps attending the private high school where her best friend, Stevie, goes. He is biracial as well although his mother was Chinese and his father white. After Abby, their friend from grade school, finds she’s better suited to the mean girl group, they only have each other.

Nevaeh’s year goes up and down as she finds a boyfriend and then can’t be honest with him. She finds her voice at the expense of others, and she sees her father’s betrayal of not just her mother, but her as well. She is the subject of cyberbullying, but all in all, Nevaeh — and the reader — learn important life lessons. (Delacorte Press)

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover books provided by the publishers for review purposes.

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