Author Chat With Charlene Allen (Play the Game), Plus Giveaway! ~ US Only!

Today we are very excited to share an interview with Charlene Allen (Play the Game)!

Read on to learn more about her, her book, and a giveaway!




Meet the Author: 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. You can visit her at

Website * Twitter * Instagram * Facebook




About the Book: Play the Game

From debut author Charlene Allen comes a captivating YA contemporary mystery and coming-of-age story, celebrating the power of friendship, first love, and exploring the criminal justice system from the lens of restorative justice. Perfect for fans of Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, and Maureen Johnson.

In the game of life, sometimes other people hold all the controls. Or so it seems to VZ. Four months have passed since his best friend Ed was killed by a white man in a Brooklyn parking lot.

When Singer, the man who killed Ed, is found dead in the same spot where Ed was murdered, all signs point to Jack, VZ’s other best friend, as the prime suspect.

VZ’s determined to complete the video game Ed never finished and figure out who actually killed Singer. With help from Diamond, the girl he’s crushing on at work, VZ falls into Ed’s quirky gameiverse. As the police close in on Jack, the game starts to uncover details that could lead to the truth about the murder.

Can VZ honor Ed and help Jack before it’s too late?  





~Author Chat~


YABC:  What gave you the inspiration to write this book?

I had so many ideas for this book! I wanted to write about Black boys exercising agency and power in their lives, because they have exciting and interesting stories to tell, that aren’t reflected enough in literature. I also wanted to write about the systems that are supposed to protect young Black people, but harm them in so many ways. And I wanted to write a book that had a lot of fun parts, even though it dealt with serious topics. All of that came together as Play the Game.

YABC: Who is your favorite character in the book?

It’s kind of cliché, but I love my protagonist, VZ. He’s sensible but not as sensible as he thinks he is. He tries really hard, but he also knows when to chill. And he’s motivated by love, whether he’d admit it or not, even when the people he loves are on his last nerve. I like that he never gives up and that he stays true to himself.

YABC: How do you know when a book is finished?

Most mysteries end when the characters figure out who did it. Play the Game has a double climax, because I didn’t want the traditional ending of, find the killer, call the police, and it’s over. My characters needed something more for their own growth and healing. (Hint: there’s a restorative justice twist). So, I think the answer to the question is, a book ends when the characters get what they need, to move on.

YABC: What research did you do to write this book?

I did a lot of research on hustles. A couple of my characters are really good street-hustlers, and while I’d seen or heard about a lot of the hustles, I had no idea how they worked from the inside. It was fun to find out.

YABC: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I wanted to be a writer when I went to college, but I was too nervous about letting my voice be heard. Then, life happened. I started my career, went to law school, got married, had a child. But the writing itch never went away. Slowly, over years, I took courses to explore my writer’s voice, and joined writers’ groups to create community, until I was finally ready to give my writing the time and attention it deserved.

YABC:   How do you keep your ‘voice’ true to the age category you are writing within?

I hold on to the time in my life when I was that age. It’s easier than you might think, because we never really say good-bye to our younger selves. For example, the college girl who was scared to show her voice on the page? She’s still a part of me. All of her wonders and worries are in there, ready to come out in my current writer’s voice.

YABC: What type of scene do you love to write the most?

Emotionally intense scenes. I like to write scenes that are the equivalent of a car chase or a shoot-out, but where all the action is emotional, so that it comes out in raised or quiet voices, in gestures and words. Those are my favorite scenes to read, which is why I love to write them.

YABC:  What word do you have trouble overusing?

But! But, why? But, maybe…? But rather… but if… but unless… but, but, but!

YABC:   What is your favorite writing space?

Since Play The Game is kind of a COVID baby, I’ve gotten used to writing at home. In my little Brooklyn apartment, the best spot is by the window in my bedroom, where I have a desk, a lamp, and a heater or fan, depending on the season.

YABC: How do you plan to celebrate the launch of your book?

With a reading and a party! I’m doing a reading at a local bookstore, and I’ve planned a party for afterwards. I want to raise a glass with friends and family who have been with me through the writing and publishing journey, and say thank you, and look – we wrote a book!

YABC: What hobbies do you enjoy?

Other than the obvious (reading!), I love hanging with family and friends, I’m a gym rat, especially cycling and dance classes, and I love a good binge-watch.

YABC:   What’s your least favorite word or expression and why?

I don’t like absolutes, like never gonna happen, when they’re used casually. I’m a never-say-never kind of person, unless you really mean it.

YABC:   What do you do when you procrastinate?

Lots of phone games – Wordle, Phrasle, crosswords. I’ll cook or clean. I’ll go down a research rabbit-hole, way further than I actually need to go. I love watching movies or binge-watching, too….

YABC: What kind of animal would your main character be and why?

I’m going to go with a dolphin. They’re friendly and fun, they travel in a pack – or, in their case, a pod. And they seem chill. My main character, VZ, isn’t big into swimming, but of course he would be if he were a dolphin.

YABC:  What fandom would you write for if you had time?

I don’t know if there’s such a thing as The Chi fan fiction, but I’d love to write about those characters. There are so many interesting people portrayed on that show, it would be incredible to create new stories that showed off different aspects of their lives.

YABC: What other age group would you consider writing for?

All age groups! I have works in progress for young people, from picture books to YA. I consider YA and middle grade fiction to be great for adults, as well, but I would also write straight-up adult fiction.

YABC:   What’s up next for you?

I’m working on my second YA novel for HarperCollins. It’s also realistic fiction, and there’s a mystery involved, too, but this time it’s a family secret. I’m enjoying living with a whole new set of characters, (though I miss VZ). It’s scheduled to be out in the spring or fall of 2024.


Title: Play the Game

Author: Charlene Allen

Release Date: 1/31/2023

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

ISBN-10: 006321279X

ISBN-13: 978-0063212794

Genre: YA/YA Crime Fiction

Age Range: 13-17




~ Giveaway Details ~


One (1) winner will receive a copy of Play the Game (Charlene Allen) ~US Only!


*Click the Rafflecopter link below to enter the giveaway*


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3 thoughts on “Author Chat With Charlene Allen (Play the Game), Plus Giveaway! ~ US Only!”

  1. ldittmer says:

    My students would love this book!

  2. I like the cover and enjoy reading mysteries so this will be fun reading time for me.

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