Playground Zero

A work of literary and historical fiction

About the Book

International Book Awards

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

When the Raysons leave D.C. for the gathering anarchy of Berkeley, each embraces the moment in a freewheeling city marked by beauty and the berserk. Tom, a restless lawyer, pursues a romance with a sexy colleague, while Marian joins a peace party that’s running a Black Panther for president. But for young Alice, as family and school fade away in a tear-gas fog and Telegraph Avenue beckons, the 1960s counterculture brings ambiguous freedom.

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

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…

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.”

— Readers’ Favorite (5-star review)

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

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

Sarah Relyea gives readers a remarkable way in to the sixties ethos and culture—and Berkeley was unquestionably the epicenter of this cultural and historical disruption. She captures the chaos, exhilaration, and the lethal elements of that time and place beautifully in human terms. This exquisitely written novel is the anti-cliche—all is real and captivatingly true and surprising.

— Amazon 5-star review

This is a powerful, historical drama. Well constructed.

— 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

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

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


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