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From the publisher:

Months after Black Brooklyn teenager Ed Hennessey is killed, Philip Singer—the white man who shot him and was not prosecuted—is found dead outside the same restaurant where the event occurred. The incident sparks a new wave of trauma and anger within the community, especially for Ed’s friends, Jack and VZ, both 17, who are still reeling from his death.

When the police target Jack as the most likely suspect in Singer’s murder, he goes on the run, leaving VZ and his best friend, Chela, to clear Jack’s name. Meanwhile, VZ, with the aid of his crush and skilled coder Diamond, attempts to finish debugging the puzzle adventure game Ed was working on, planning to submit it to a gaming contest to honor his memory. As the game’s challenges and riddles begin inexplicably tying into VZ’s real-life investigation, he’s forced to reckon with his previously unexplored feelings of grief while desperately seeking closure and justice. Informed by present-day events surrounding structural racism and oppression, and the author’s experience as a restorative justice advocate, Allen compassionately examines themes of community and criminal justice reform in this affecting, noirish debut. Ages 13–up.
Charlene Allen
About Charlene Allen:

Charlene Allen works with community organizations to heal trauma and fight injustice, especially the beast called mass incarceration. She received her MFA from The New School, her JD from Northeastern University, and her BA from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She lives in Brooklyn with her fabulous family and their very silly dog. Play the Game is her debut novel.  

Charlene Allen

6 p.m. Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Albany Public Library - Pine Hills Branch, Large Meeting Room,

517 Western Avenue, Albany
Registration required: 

Charlene Allen, activist and YA fiction author, is a leading promoter of “Restorative Justice,” a vision of the criminal justice system that focuses on rehabilitation and reconciliation as alternatives to mass incarceration.

Her debut novel is Play the Game (2023), a murder mystery that explores friendship, first love, violence and the allure of video games.


Civil rights icon Angela Davis said, “Fast-paced, insightful, and highly relevant, Allen’s novel illustrates the application of restorative justice practices to real life situations. A must read.” Bestselling YA author Tiffany Jackson said, “Powerful. Authentic. A riveting gut punch. This is how you galvanize young activists.”


Presented by the Albany Public Library and the New York State Writers Institute.
Major support and funding provided by the Carl E. Touhey Foundation.

Charlene Allen's Play the Game

"A compelling look at different ways of approaching grief and justice." — Kirkus Reviews

“Powerful. Authentic. A riveting gut punch. This is how you galvanize young activists. A voice not soon to be forgotten.”  — Tiffany D. Jackson, New York Times bestselling author of The Weight of Blood

“Honest, raw, and absolutely alive. Play the Game is a tour de force, and Charlene Allen has announced herself as a powerful new voice." — Matt de la Peña, author of Mexican WhiteBoy and Last Stop on Market Street

"Compelling story." — Booklist

"Teens will find VZ’s story a rewarding read with undeniably difficult lessons to teach." — Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

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