Playground Zero

a story about girlhood in the 1960s

About the Book

International Book Awards

Have you ever wondered what childhood was like before helicopter parenting?

1968. Siren songs and loosened bonds. War, campaign slogans, and assassination. At the height of the Vietnam War protests, Washington lawyer Tom Rayson uproots his family for the freewheeling city of Berkeley. As her parents make forays into the counterculture, twelve-year-old Alice embraces the moment in America’s cultural ground zero. Feeling estranged from her family and school, Alice falls in with Jim and Valerie Dupres, whose dad is selling jeans and making revolution. Jim and Valerie have been learning the ropes on Telegraph Avenue and camping out in People’s Park. As family and school fade away in a tear-gas fog, Alice feels an ambiguous freedom. Following the Summer of Love, she must find her way through a new world where street signs hang backward and there’s a bootleg candy called Orange Sunshine. Caught up in a rebellion that feels equally compelling and absurd, Alice could become a casualty—or she could defy the odds and become her own person. One thing is sure: there’s no going back.

2021 International Book Awards Finalist in Fiction: Literary

2021 Readers’ Favorite Book Awards Finalist in Fiction: Social Issues

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What they're saying about

Playground Zero…

Like a trip through the Looking Glass, Sarah Relyea’s engrossing debut novel takes you by the hand back to the sixties, where social rules were being challenged and political upheaval was the norm. Relyea tells the absorbing story of twelve-year-old Alice and her family through a series of narrators as they each experience the kaleidoscope streets of Berkeley.

— Patricia Hurtado, Brooklyn writer and journalist with Bloomberg News

Once the cadence of the story beats into the reader’s blood, it is hard to put the book down.

— Tami Richards at Touched by Ink

This intense retrospective on people yanked out of the strait-laced Fifties and tossed into a culture of anything goes will appeal to readers wanting to learn more about Berkeley’s days of rage.

— G. J. Berger at Historical Novel Society

This is a wonderful, thoughtful, well-written book. I am not academic enough to know if it is a great book, but it might be.

— Goodreads (5-star review)

A fascinating exploration of a strange and exciting time in US history … I was totally immersed in the story as Alice grows and develops in a world in which freedom has many different outcomes.

— NetGalley

Playground Zero is an exceptional piece of literary fiction that puts Sarah Relyea in a league of her own. The characters are unique and authentic to the era and geography.”

— Readers’ Favorite (5-star review)

An eerily compelling déjà vu of the free, wild, and jeopardy-ridden kid scene in late-1960s Berkeley. Uncanny and powerful.

— Charles Degelman, Editor, Harvard Square Editions


The Details

Published: June 9, 2020
Publisher: She Writes Press
Pages: 416
Formats: EbookPaperback
ISBN-10: 1-63152-889-0
ISBN-13: 978-1-63152-889-7

Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Coming-of-Age Fiction