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.
Things I wish I’d known before reading this (as I might have chosen to not read it): the murder victim is not a “young” homeless boy, but a guy around Maddy’s age; and the main plot of this story is Maddy herself, not her struggle to stay safe from the perpetrator (because that’s an aside at best). This is also a new adult book, not a young adult book, as I’ve seen it called in some reviews.
Maddy herself is a fascinating character and the reader is very much involved in her life. However, this is a very slow read without a lot of character growth. Some of Maddy’s friends are homeless by choice—they have families and places to go but choose not to—some are not, and their family unit struggles together. This isn’t a fun or uplifting read, so if that’s what you’re expecting, it’s probably best to give this a pass.
Katherine Seligman is a journalist and author. At the Edge of the Haight is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Algonquin Books in exchange for an honest review.)