Maddy Donaldo, homeless at twenty, has made a family of sorts in the dangerous spaces of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. 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.
Maddy Donaldo, homeless at twenty, lives with her dog and makeshift family in the hidden spaces of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. She thinks she knows how to survive and whom to trust until she accidentally witnesses the murder of a young man. Her world is upended as she has to face not only the killer but also the police and then the victim’s parents, who desperately want Maddy to tell them about the life their son led after he left home. And in a desire to save her since they could not save their own son, they are determined to have Maddy reunite with her own lost family.
But what makes a family? Is it the people who raised you if they don’t have the skills to look after you? Is it the foster parents whose generosity only lasts until things become more difficult? Or is it the family that Maddy has met in the park, young people who also have nowhere else to go?
Told with sensitivity and tenderness and set against the backdrop of a radically changing city, At the Edge of the Haight is narrated by a young girl just beginning to understand herself.
At the Edge of the Haight is ultimately a book about growing up, coming to terms with the past, and the consequences of today’s economic and social realities. It is one of the only books I have read that focuses on a growing but overlooked demographic – the unhoused. I really appreciated that Katherine Seligman focused on telling the stories of those who live on the streets not due to substance use, as is so often done.
Katherine Seligman did a solid job depicting the day-to-day life of the unhoused without placing any judgment. I did, however, feel like the story skimmed the over the nuances and hardships of being unhoused. Seligman’s focus was instead on Maddy and her personal journey. She creates Maddy as a complex character with a distinctive and authentic voice. This helped to drive the narrative.
While I enjoyed At the Edge of the Haight, I was left wanting a few things. While the plot was pretty strong, I did not think the execution was quite there. I found both the characters and the story lacking depth. I thought the relationships in this book were interesting and compelling but missing detail and intricacy. I think if this book was aimed at a young adult audience, these things would be acceptable. But as a book aimed at an adult audiences, I wanted more complexity and nuance. Because At the Edge of the Haight was missing this, there was little for me to be emotionally invested in other than the empathy I felt for the characters.
Overall, I was left feeling spilt about At the Edge of the Haight. It is a book that I am glad exists and that I did enjoy. I just wanted it to be more than it was. Regardless, I still recommend it.
At the Edge of the Haight
January 19, 2021
2019 PEN/Bellwether Award for Socially Engaged Fiction
Note: I received a gifted copy of this book from the publisher, Algonquin Books, as part of a book tour. Regardless, I always provide a fair and honest review.