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.
Unsparing but sympathetic, and with journalistic details, At the Edge of the Haight begins on an ominous note ... Katherine Seligman’s novel has broader intentions. It focuses on Maddy’s trials as part of San Francisco’s large homeless population, and is an intense, personal drama about wayward lives positioned between redemption and disaster ... Putting a human face on those who live at society’s margins, At the Edge of the Haight is an intimate novel whose young characters struggle for survival and a little bit of dignity.
Throughout the story, this reader worried about Maddy and longed for her to find her way off the streets. Unlike many novels, the author does not provide easy answers. The resonant title of this book reflects the edge of a hateful life on the streets.
The novel is [...] unclear about its central thesis: Is this a murder mystery with a look at homelessness, or is it mostly about homelessness with a side of murder? Tangential plot points—Fleet is hospitalized from a drug reaction and Ash suddenly takes off for a Wyoming wilderness camp—further fray the already loosely held storylines. All told, Seligman is to be commended for an insightful portrayal of homelessness. She’s at her best when showing just how tenuous life on the streets can be. 'Stories were hard to decipher because they were filtered through people,' a character says. This might well apply to this heartfelt and unfocused novel. Brave but scattershot storytelling.