After the success of her previous novels The Cost of Knowing and her YA debut Slay, Brittney Morris brings readers a new tech-savvy adventure, The Jump, which follows Seattle teen cryptographers Jax, Yas, Han, and Spider, also known as Team JERICHO, on their biggest scavenger hunt yet. When anonymous vigilante group The Order offers power to the team that can solve their riddles, the team races to be the first to piece together the clues and save their neighborhood from an oil refinery in process of being built in their community, threatening the financial security of their loved ones. We spoke with NAACP Image Award nominee and PW Flying Start Morris about writing about children of color in digital spaces, how her experience as a gamer translates into crafting high-stakes action, and exploring corporate greed.
The Jump was inspired by the real life 4chan puzzles of Cicada 3301. Did you work on any riddles or puzzles to help get into the mindset of team JERICHO and to design the puzzles in the novel?
Sadly, no. I wish I was cool enough to do real cryptology puzzles. But I was introduced to the whole concept of cryptology when I watched a YouTube documentary about the Cicada 3301 puzzle, and that occurred toward the tail end of when I was in college. So I was new to the idea of solving a digital scavenger hunt like that. But it was hard to get out of my mind. I thought, how cool would it be to see a group of four teenagers in such a scenario under much higher stakes, or where their entire community is on the line. They have to explore what it means to have power themselves when they’re just teenagers playing a game, and they’re going up against something as huge and scary as an oil refinery.
Both The Jump and your previous novel Slay share the concept of digital culture. What interests you about online spaces and how Black children navigate them?
Gaming has been a part of my life since I can remember. And I’ve played a lot of indie games, specifically, that deal with heavy topics like terminal illness, depression, anxiety, and grief. When the idea came up for Slay, to write a book about exploring one’s racial identity, a video game just made sense to me. Then with The Jump, similarly, I got to thinking about how revolutionary play can be, itself. In a world where serving capitalism is the thing that gets you up in the morning, or at least that’s what society tells us, making time for play is a revolutionary act. I thought about what could be formidable to something as huge as a multibillion-dollar corporation. Four teenagers playing a game, that’s not exactly going to be scary for [the corporation]. But in their own ways, they find their own definitions of power. And I think that’s really important for specifically Black kids and kids of color who are marginalized to hear. There are ways to be powerful other than being on the front lines of a protest.
How was the crafting and writing process for The Jump different from your previous novels?
Slay was a bit of an anomaly. I was rushing to get that done, so I could finish it in time for PitMad, which was a Twitter pitch contest at the time, because I was hoping to get an agent. And I did. Now I’ve learned a lot of different ways to be much kinder to myself as I’m doing that first draft. Slay was written in 11 days. [With] The Jump, I got to take a month and a half. So they were very different processes, even though the books have similar subject matters, which is really funny.
How did you develop the distinct voices of Yas, Jax, Spider, and Han to create multiple POVs?
I got to have fun with four points of view because there are four protagonists, and they all operate in first-person voice. I assumed that there would be no names labeled at the top of each chapter so when I switched voices between the characters, I wanted it to be very clear what voice they were reading and whose chapter they just jumped into.
In the book, you describe Roundworld as one of the many corporations that “barely pay taxes, push out small businesses, gentrify neighborhoods, rearrange neighborhoods.” What drew you to want to explore the consequences of real-life corporate greed and its effects?
There’s been a lot of talk in the news about corporate greed, and especially corporate impacts on the environment. At the time I was writing this, we had just come off the heels of a lot of different societal shifts, including the Capitol Hill autonomous zone [in Seattle], which was a real-life group of people who made their own economy. They made their own kind of micro-nation in the middle of Capitol Hill that was exempt from all laws, local and federal, and had its own bartering system, did not use money, and had its own governance. Even though it was a temporary establishment it still really inspired me. I used to live in Seattle for six or seven years. The tone of individualism, raising your fist to all the corporations in the area, kind of settled over the city. I think I used that energy to channel a book. Also watching Gen Z on TikTok, and YouTube, I’m just watching their attitudes toward the world and the way it works, and especially with their attitude toward work. The idea that we don’t need to overcommit to our day jobs, just to be seen as being adequate, is really cool and inspiring to me. I look at Gen Z, and I look at Gen Alpha, and I have hope for a future.
What are you working on currently?
Right now, I’m working on three short stories: two young adult and a middle grade. One of them is looking like it’s going to be Mamma Mia! meets The Godfather. So that’s gonna be a wild adventure!
The Jump by Brittney Morris. Simon & Schuster, $19.99 Mar. ISBN 978-1-66590-398-1