It is 1969, and Stephen meets up with old friend Astrid and her lover Spencer, and stays with them in the hippy household “The Hollies.” Peace and love are tangible: until his passionate attraction for another girl in the household goes sour. He drifts into the radical arts scene and far-left politics, and finally into a squalid squat in London. A return to the idyllic “The Hollies” seems a good idea, but now the house has become a commune, and Spencer is the guru. When this too, inevitably, goes sour, Stephen has to try to understand what was real and what was just a dream?
In 1969, as a beginning college student in England, Stephen is trying to find himself. He knows that he does not want to be like his mother, a political conservative seeking office, nor does he desire an education or a regular job and family. After leaving home and wandering through various temporary living arrangements, he finds himself at "the Hollies," an abandoned farmhouse where several people are trying to learn the secrets of the universe from Spencer, a would-be guru, who turns traditional rules of society upside down. In Spencer's philosophy, honesty, loyalty, and morality are only illusions, and true enlightenment means abandoning traditional values. As the story progresses, Stephen's view of Spencer and life under his control evolves from one extreme to another until, ultimately, the cult Spencer creates collapses under its own weight. Cooper captures not only the facts and flavor of the hippie/flower-child/child-of-the-universe experience from the 1960s but also the paranoia that went with being the potential target of the establishment. Stephen's frequent intuition that he is being watched or followed proves to be more real than imagined. In the 1960s, the new sensibilities of the younger generation were anathema to members of the adult world, especially political and moral viewpoints. The author did considerable research about the time to portray this schism as accurately as possible. The content, although seldom explicit, might seem like no big deal to high school readers, and it might be baffling and difficult to relate to the characters' attraction to lifestyles involving no apparent plan or purpose.