Playground Zero

A Coming-of-Age Novel

About the Book

1968. It’s the season of siren songs and loosened bonds—as well as war, campaign slogans, and assassination.

When the Rayson family leaves the East Coast for the gathering anarchy of Berkeley, twelve-year-old Alice embraces the moment in a hippie paradise that’s fast becoming a cultural ground zero. As her family and school fade away in a tear gas fog, the 1960s counterculture brings ambiguous freedom, as People’s Park beckons.

Guided only by a child’s eye view in a tumultuous era, Alice could become another casualty—or she could come through to her new family, her developing life. But first, she must find her way in a world where the street signs hang backward and there’s a bootleg candy called Orange Sunshine.

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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

The characters were raw and complex.

— Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews

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

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

Playground Zero is a multi-viewpoint story much in the same vein as Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible and Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller… 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

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, each maneuvering through a labyrinth at a time when the United States was propelled into the sphere of real change… The intensity of feeling is a credit to Relyea and her character development, allowing us to somehow find a level of understanding with even a philandering and unyielding husband. I think readers who enjoy witty and natural characterizations with acerbic transparency in a style similar to Nell Zink will find Playground Zero to be a perfect fit.”

— Readers’ Favorite (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.

— Sarah W., NetGalley

Playground Zero is not a book to rush through. It is better to read it slowly, absorb the words and immerse yourself in the characters, their development and capture a picture of Berkeley at a crucial time in history.

— The Burgeoning Bookshelf

Through music, literature, and actual events, the author creates a clear picture of the 1960s, especially the tumultuous events and the free-love flower power that swept the west coast in particular. This is a powerful, historical drama. Well constructed.

— Readers’ Favorite (5-star review)


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

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