January 19, 2021
Blurb: Maddy Donaldo, homeless at twenty, has made a family of sorts in the dangerous spaces of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. She knows whom to trust, where to eat, when to move locations, and how to take care of her dog. It’s the only home she has. When she unwittingly witnesses the murder of a young homeless boy and is seen by the perpetrator, her relatively stable life is upended. Suddenly, everyone from the police to the dead boys’ parents want to talk to Maddy about what she saw. As adults pressure her to give up her secrets and reunite with her own family before she meets a similar fate, Maddy must decide whether she wants to stay lost or be found. Against the backdrop of a radically changing San Francisco, a city which embraces a booming tech economy while struggling to maintain its culture of tolerance, At the Edge of the Haight follows the lives of those who depend on makeshift homes and communities.
As judge Hillary Jordan says, “This book pulled me deep into a world I knew little about, bringing the struggles of its young, homeless inhabitants—the kind of people we avoid eye contact with on the street—to vivid, poignant life. The novel demands that you take a close look. If you knew, could you still ignore, fear, or condemn them? And knowing, how can you ever forget?”
Teenagers wanting to live freely, unfettered by jobs or responsibility, may not be what one necessarily thinks of when one hears the word “homeless” but these are the subjects at the heart of Katherine Seligman’s novel At the Edge of the Haight. Maddy Donaldo was a typical kid until her father left and then her mother suffered a mental breakdown, which landed Maddy in the foster care of distant cousins. Maddy’s life there was not normal and when, at 18, the state said she had to find a job, she went to San Francisco instead and lived the life of other homeless teens and young adults in Golden Gate Park.
After having lived this way for a while, Maddy has a routine, friends, and family consisting of her dog Root. One morning Root runs off through the bushes, leading Maddy to discover a murdered man and his killer just nearby. When the hollow-eyed killer tells Maddy he knows where to find her, Maddy believes this is true and subsequent days and weeks are spent looking over her shoulder.
Eventually the young man’s father, Dave, comes looking for answers and tries to understand why his son chose to live the life he did. It becomes apparent that there is no one reason and that maybe Dave’s son, Shane, was not who Dave thought he was.
At the Edge of the Haight was completely engrossing to me although I have to admit that I was never completely satisfied as to why someone as smart and capable as Maddy Donaldo would want to endure sleeping out in San Francisco’s damp chill or being at the mercy of the elements because for her it was a choice and not a matter of circumstances. However, as Seligman depicted their life, there was a sense of community. The ideal of finding kindred spirits whose experiences mirrored your own. It felt as if this was a rite of passage for this common spirit. These children who felt always misunderstood or unwanted in their home life.
The reader never gets to know Shane except for bits the killer says about him and memories that Dave and his wife, Marva provide. For all intents and purposes, Shane did not seem like Maddy or her friend Ash, but maybe he was hiding who he really was and felt misunderstood because of it. Despite Shane’s death being the mystery at the center of the novel and Maddy’s obsession, neither the reader nor Maddy reach a conclusion or an understanding. Everything is not black and white.
At the Edge of the Haight opened my eyes to the world and dangers of teenage homelessness. How these kids are both seen and invisible. And how vulnerable they truly are. A riveting and engrossing novel.
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
5 out of 5 butterflies