Book Review: Play the Game

April 16, 2023 in 5 Star Reads, Blog, Reviews - No Comments - boundbythebook

“What are systems besides the people who make them up? If we figure out how to hold people accountable for the systems they hold up, maybe [he] won’t get away with murder after all.”

Book Details

release date: January 31, 2023

genres: young adult, mystery, thriller, social justice, contemporary

publisher: HarperCollins, Katherine Tegen Books

tw: drug use (marijuana), murder, prejudice & racism. Please contact me for clarifications.

Quick Take

A fast-paced exploration of restorative justice and its role in a teenager’s persistence on solving the murder of his best friend while completing the coding of that friend’s unfinished video game. Unexpectedly, the video game offers insight that may lead to what happened that night.


Play the Game was a novel that I was absolutely immersed in from beginning to end. Following VZ as he continued to grieve the loss of his best friend was heart wrenching. Through his grief, he navigated his day-to-day life while trying to solve the murder of his best friend’s killer on his own because how could he rely on the systems in place when the killer was white and everything appears to point to VZ’s other best friend, Jack? The complexity of VZ’s character and his persistence despite all really stuck (and still sticks) with me.

The inclusion of Ed’s video game and its role in VZ’s actions was one of my favorite aspects of this novel. It felt like Ed was speaking to VZ through his video game in order to help him solve the murder and became another way for Ed’s memory to live on. The video game itself was also interesting because of Ed’s interests and how that played into its creation.

My favorite aspect of this book was the inclusion of restorative justice and its impact on the characters.

Final Verdict


Charlene Allen’s debut is a must read for young adults and those that work with them in any capacity.

Favorite Quotes

“How do you even make a memory when you aren’t paying attention in the first place?”

(About entering the police precinct) “People go into that place, and it’s a whole other world in there. Who knows how they find their way out?”

“The ancestors tell us that madness is the brother of anger.” “You children must learn to listen to the dead.”

Because Black people aren’t allowed to get scared, and definitely not of white people. You know it’s true. Only white people get to get scared. Only white people get to defend themselves. Are we gonna keep letting it be like that?”


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?


Clicking the below link will take you directly to the publisher’s website where you can purchase through them or from one of you favorite book retailers.

Purchase Here

About the Author

Photo courtesy of Studio by Sehee

To learn more about Charlene Allen and her works, please visit HarperCollins’s website.

Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads. Thank you to Charlene Allen, Katherine Tegen Books,
HarperCollins, and EpicReads for the galley copy in exchange for my honest review.

A reader of books, a writer of reviews, a blogger of both.

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