Saturday, April 11, 2020

Book Review: Playground Zero by Sarah Relyea

Sarah Relyea's 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. The major difference is that Relyea's story is told from the third person perspective. Having all the diverse points of view revealing the story was illuminating, especially in the beginning when evaluating the various motivations of how and why the family was moving from DC to Berkeley. As Playground Zero moved forward, the differing points of view went a long way toward building sympathy with each character's individual story.

The year was 1968, a time fraught with ages-old issues burgeoning to their bursting point. In Berkeley, CA, the counterculture was awash in the sentiment and politics of the civil rights movement, and the free-flowing drugs of social anarchy. This is where we find 12 year old Alice, newly arrived from DC with her mother, father, and brother, trying to make friends amid groups she doesn't fit in with and confused by her own body. This is where desegregated angst meets armed confrontations with the police when Marian, Alice's mother, tries making new friends and finds herself mixed up with a hotbed of a group filled with much younger white skinned black panther activists. This is where Tom, the family patriarch, begins seeing another woman. This is where Curt, Alice's older brother, may have begun to run with the wrong crowd. The tension near Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley builds like a game of telephone along a phoneline of a hundred voices.

Alice's character in Playground Zero was certainly engaging, but I personally felt a greater connection to Marian's story. The Vietnam war was a constant in all the media, all the time, and her son was nearing draft age, her husband's job relocated her away from her friends, her groups, to a strange city on the other side of the continent full of dope smoking nihilists, and the angst of the times were at once propelling and consuming her. But no matter which character one sympathizes with, once the cadence of the story beats into the reader's blood, it is hard to put the book down.
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Sarah Relyea said...

Thank you, Tami, for your review. It is much appreciated!

tamirichards said...

Thanks for writing such a compelling, Sarah. I hope you have great success with this book.