The Winner of the 2019 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction
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?”
Bringing to the forefront the daily struggles of the homeless population, Katherine Seligman’s award-winning novel, At the Edge of the Haight, transports us into a world about which many of us know little.
Without a home at the age of 20, Maddy Donaldo has carved a life for herself while living inside San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. She has her own community, composed of a close group of friends and a dog named Root. She knows where to eat, where to bathe, and how to avoid the cops.
Maddy knows how to live homelessly. And she lives contentedly.
Until her quiet life is shaken one day when chasing after Root. To her horror, Maddy stumbles upon the scene of a murdered homeless boy – and into the path of the suspected murderer. With the police and victim’s family asking for her help, Maddy soon finds that she just wants to be left alone. More than she ever did before.
Feeling pressure from all sides to now contact her own family, Maddy must decide whether she has the courage to change her life. Before she meets a similar end to that of the murdered homeless boy.
At the Edge of the Haight is the winner of the 2019 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. And even though it is not a novel that I particularly enjoyed, in some ways I can see why it was selected.
Seligman has most certainly done her research into the lives of the unsheltered. She has given an honest and distinctive voice to Maddy, and she drops the reader squarely into the midst of her mind. We are given great insight into the thought processes of a young homeless woman, and Maddy’s troubled psyche feels authentic.
But research and authenticity are not enough to carry a novel. And what At the Edge of the Haight lacks most is solid execution. The writing, the characterization, the storytelling – they are all quite subpar and lackluster.
The prose is extremely simplistic, rough, and choppy. There is no flow to it; the words do not glide fluidly across the page. And while the novel has been labeled Adult Fiction, I believe it is much better suited to the Young Adult genre.
Aside from Maddy, all the other characters are flat and one-dimensional. We only see what is on the surface. No depth or nuance is given to anyone. The dialogue between them, too, is stilted and forced. And occasionally, it’s as if there are holes in conversations, or missing lines and thought patterns.
In terms of storytelling, the narrative jolts from one event to the next, never smoothly transitioning between scenes and chapters. The murder mystery is also not threaded effectively across the breadth of the story, and some of the novel’s plot points seem random and too convenient.
It’s almost as if Seligman tries to forcibly bend the story to fit her research, rather than allowing the story to breathe, grow naturally, and expand with her knowledge.
Truly, it saddens me that I am unable to lavishly praise At the Edge of the Haight. I recognize the amount of research that Seligman conducted in order to write it. I sense how much heart she put into the story.
But unfortunately, my heart was not in it. I was neither emotionally invested nor ever fully engaged in the novel. And I, therefore, cannot recommend it.
My sincerest appreciation to Algonquin Books and Edelweiss+ for the Advance Review Copy. All opinions included herein are my own.
At the Edge of the Haight follows twenty year old homeless Maddy Donaldo as she comes across a dying young man, while the murderer is still standing near his body. Homeless life is fraught with perils and being seen by a murderer just adds to Maddy's fears and worries. Yet for as dangerous, unpredictable, and uncomfortable as being homeless in the area of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park must be, life for Maddy, her friends and her acquaintances, almost comes across as truant teenagers/young adults spending too much time loafing around a mall, waiting to be chased off by the security guards who make their rounds each shift.
Maddy and her friends are very intelligent and creative but as this story relates their lives, they have a chance to take advantage of a myriad of resources, safety nets, and handouts that are designed to bring them in off the streets and start on a more independent path to life, and they seem to take advantage of those things when it's convenient or when they make an effort to be in the right place at the right time . These young people seem to see their homelessness as being independent and not allowing others to tell them what to do but don't face that really living in a way that allows you take care of yourself (and maybe take care of a family, in the future) comes with rules and guidelines that are best followed, to achieve true independence from handouts and a life of never knowing where your next meal will come from, where you will sleep/squat for the night.
The writing of this story is very good and I cared about, not only Maddy and her friends, but for those who try to help Maddy and the other homeless people. There are people trying so hard to change Maddy's life for the better but it seems almost impossible when Maddy and those she spends time with, reject the opportunities that are offered, over and over. There is so much more going on with the plight of homelessness but this story makes it seem less dire than the real life situation. It seems that this book is aimed more at young teens/young adults and that could be why it's written in a less gritty manner than reality might dictate, but I think it's a disservice to the real thing when it seems to almost be glamorized.
Publication date: January 19, 2021
Thank you to Algonquin Books/Workman and Edelweiss for this ARC.
Forgive me....this review is long. Honestly....I wrote it for myself....comes straight from my heart. Homelessness...is an issue that is close to my heart.
READ THE BLURB.... It describes this book perfectly..... including the eloquent endorsement from author Barbara Kingsolver: “What a read this is, right from its starling opening scene. But even more than the plot, it’s the richly layered details that drive home a lightning bolt of empathy. To read ‘At The End of Haight’ is to live inside the every day terror and longings of a world that most of us manage not to see, even if we walk past it on sidewalks every day. At a time when more Americans than ever find themselves at the edge of homelessness, this book couldn’t be more timely”.
This is a fiction story— inspired by the homeless culture in San Francisco. The setting primarily takes place in the Golden Gate Park. It’s partly a coming of age tale—partly a tale about the community of youth homelessness—(with a cast of main characters, a loved dog, and a loved rat)—partly a look at how easily a normal healthy bright person comes to be homeless—and partly a tale about a young boy murdered in the park—( the fallout details, the discreditable injustice, loss, court investigation, grief parents must face, and the distress of Maddy Donaldo, homeless young adult, who found ‘Shane’ bleeding in the park).
The writing and storytelling encompass the heartless ironies, the bare essentials it takes to survive—(rain, staying wet all day, wet shoes, heavy cold, no money coming in, minor thieving, hungry, dignity, handouts, pity, strength, drugs, cops), a look at how homeless friends watch over one another ....with the smells of weed, eucalyptus trees, stinky sleeping bags, dirty clothes & body odors.
I knew I’d read this book. I knew it would touch me to the core. It did. It’s inspired me to do more. One of my best friends is a step away from being homeless — it kills me every day knowing how much she struggles. Plus... I knew young homeless people... who did live in the park. Thankfully, they are doing well today.
The SF Bay Area is my home. I’m passionate about our area. We have our struggles — we also have great weather, diversity, culture, cuisine, and gorgeous natural beauty...mountain, trees, beaches, sunsets, etc. DON’T talk trashy about the SF Bay Area too me.
Haight-Ashbury is adjacent to Golden Gate Park. As most people know the district became famous as a bohemian enclave in the 50’s and 60’s. I’m blessed to have many memories of these days. I grew up with this culture — I was just across the bay in Berkeley. Our daughter lived on Clayton St. & Haight St. in S.F. between the years of 2005-2008. Plus I worked on California St. in S.F. for several years in the late 70’s and early 80’s .....so I’m familiar with homeless growth. The increase of homeless people — the increase around the entire SFBay area is astounding. (here in the Santa Clara county, in the South Bay, too, where Paul and I live).
In 2020...San Francisco: ....report shows 285-percent rise in homeless tents. To ‘see’ the number of colorful tents going on and on and on......along side the freeways is SHOCKING ....( not blocks > I’m speaking MILES of tents) — it’s a very impactful dramatic visual!!! The coronavirus impact has created homelessness surges. Kelley Cutler is with the Coalition on Homelessness. She said she helped pass out thousands of tents during the pandemic. And because of the pandemic, the city moved more than a thousand individuals in hotel rooms. (but was far less than the seven or eight thousand talked about). Many folks on the street today have come from other areas — hoping for a handout. It’s putting a strain on a system that is already not running smoothly. We have plenty of folks who are from here who need to be taken care of. It’s a real problem.... BUT.... In the urban park itself —1,017 acres of public ground ...Golden Gate Park — homeless count shows a sharp decline. The number of homeless people counted in Golden Gate Park in past years was in the hundreds, but this year the tally plummeted to double digits. In 2019.... The park included just 36 youth under the age of 25, down from 132 youth in 2017 count and 153 youth count in 2015. The success is a result of an outreach team and increased resources and collaboration between services providers. Plus...the large decline is also a result of enforcement shifting people around. The only solution to homelessness is housing.
As far as SAFETY.....murders are rare in Golden Gate Park. Car break-ins a bigger concern. Murderers are not a common issue., There ‘was’ a gruesome killing in Golden Gate Park, in 2016. The May 24th ( my birthday), killing in the park was committed by a homeless youth against another homeless person in Golden Gate Park. But .....overall....it’s not killings that has caught national attention— its the city’s insurmountable number homelessness increase numbers. (a struggle that’s been ongoing for over 30 years). Crime associated with homelessness - drug trafficking- and violence- are not new problems to San Francisco ....but.... it’s still very rare that killings happen in Golden Gate Park.
Katherine Seligman, debut author, is the 10th winner of the 2019 Pen/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. I thought she did an excellent job painting the daily realities of living outside ....a home of no walls. With characters I’m in love with. Root, the dog...Tiny...the rat, too.
I enjoyed Maddy...the 20- year old tough & tender protagonist. Learning of how she came to be ‘homeless’....a streetwise survivor, was heartbreaking.
I worried ‘with’ Maddy, (along with Ash, Fleet, and Hope who each have different background stories which brought them to the park). We meet a man name Dave who had a nice home in Marin. There was a night when Maddy and her dog Root was invited to Dave ( and his wife’s home), to get some clean dry clothes and food to eat. The contrast of a warm home - hot bath water - endless amounts of food —was incommensurable. What’s sad — is that as much as ‘some’ people want to help the homeless -( as Dave did Maddy), it’s a complex emotionally charged issue. Even Annie in the play ‘Annie’....who cherished her dog, Sandy, more than anything....had her pride. Handouts tested Maddy’s pride, her dignity, and even trust. I understood her mistrust. How does a young women learn to trust the kindness of a giving hand, when she ‘never’ grew up with that security from the get go?
I liked this book a lot — a wonderful debut. For me, it was much less a about being a murder mystery ( although a valuable plot device for storytelling purposes), ....a heartbreaking crime.....(we feel the pain believe me, for the parents of their son killed).... but for me the value of ‘At The End of Haight’, is bringing forth the awareness that homelessness is not a life sentence. It’s a solvable problem. Michael Stoops, has been working with the homeless for 40 years. He is the community Director organizer for the National Coalition for the Homeless. He says: “If it is just about sharing food, sheltering, acts of kindness and mercy, that’s all well and good. But if that is all we do, we will be doing the same stuff and definitely. How much nest increased on my watch. We need to decide to end homelessness in America, to move beyond charity towards social justice. People experiencing homelessness can eat eight times a day on Thanksgiving. What about the other 364 days a year?”
Mike went on to say, “we know what works. Housing must come first.... rapid rehousing to those who lose their homes, more emergency programs like rent. Assistance and mental health care. These work and are in fact cheaper than other forms of assistance. We need to expand these efforts. We have made great strides in the past 10 years, and we need to take even bigger steps”.
Homelessness is surging in the Bay Area, COVID-19 making it even more visible— pushing even more people into poverty. We also grapple with massive regional housing shortages. The Bay Area is diving into a mega project— tiny affordable homes are being built. I’m watching some being built as I type this in San Jose. 75, 000 units in the Bay Area are part of the mega development program — most of them planned for formal industrial or military sites that were hardly used - land that was just ���sitting’. This project is hopeful. ....
And ‘At The End of Haight’....is a wonderful engaging story.... A reminder that if you give people tools, they can take care of themselves....story —- a book that brought tears to my eyes towards the end. I fell in love with the homeless stars - the extended community - people who offered kindness, dog food, an extra sweatshirt, cops who loved ‘their’ park kids. I HOPE THIS IS JUST THE FIRST FICTION NOVEL with character Maddy Donaldo. I hope this book is book 1 of a series. I loved Maddy. I can see sooo many more stories that can grow out of this one. I’m totally rooting for Katherine Seligman to continue writing more important stories with depth, feeling, and insights ( as she did with this admirable debut). I think she’s the perfect author with a kind heart of compassion to write about real problems people face living in the Bay Area.
And.... I hope to meet Katherine Seligman myself one day. Very proud of this new Bay Area author.
5 moving stars from me. Thank you, Katherine for taking on this issue....bringing awareness to many who have never had ice cold wet feet for even an hour, let alone days.
Maddy Dondaldo is a twenty-year-old homeless female who follows her dog, Root, into the bushes one day where she witnesses a man dying. His killer standing nearby leaves without harming Maddy, but this incident will change her life in many ways.
Maddy has been on her own for some time but has formed a family group/ community of sorts with her boyfriend, Ash, Fleet and Hope. She spends her days going to the library, music store and other stores that allow her to browse, give out dog treats, and allow her to use the bathroom. She and her friends sit with signs, asking for money, go to local shelters for food, showers and occasionally to spend the night.
He life gets turned upside down when she gets drawn into the police investigation and meets the dead man's parents who desperately want answers.
I appreciated that the author mentioned in her Author's note that she spoke with homeless individuals living on the streets. I found her portrayal of the homeless to be very realistic. Little known fact about me, I worked as a Case Manager working with homeless mentally ill adults for shelters in both Santa Monica and Glendale, CA for two different agencies. A common misconception is that everyone wants help and to get off the street. I loved that she wrote how difficult it was for Maddy to spend the night indoors at the one place the young man's parents paid for. This was something I was up against all the time. Many have difficulty not being able to see the stars/sky, breathe fresh air, they may feel boxed in/claustrophobic, paranoia, feeling as if they do not deserve help, and miss those who they lived with on the streets, etc. That was common as was theft, rape, crime against homeless, etc. I really appreciated how she wrote some of these issues into that book. She also did a great job describing services offered in the shelters. I appreciated the research she did in writing this book.
Another positive is the relationships she showed between the characters. Those between Maddy and her friends, and between Maddy and the young man's parents. She showed their grief, desperation, and drive for answers. There is a bit of sadness flowing through this book, but it is also hopeful as well. Maddy must make a decision, but what choice will she make?
I found this story to be both captivating and thought provoking.
***The Winner of the 2019 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction
Thank you to Algonquin Books and Edelweiss who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.
I didn’t realize that this book was YA when I requested it, or I may have passed on it.
What I did know was that it was the 2019 Pen/Bellwether prize winner for Socially Engaged Fiction and having read two books in that category, earlier in the year,which both earned 5 ⭐️ from me, I was intrigued. (Please See Us-Caitlin Mullen and These Women-Ivy Pochoda)
Written by Katherine Seligman who has been a reporter at the San Francisco Examiner, and a writer at the San Francisco Chronicle magazine, she spoke with many individuals who live unsheltered before crafting this fictional story:
Maddy has been living in the Haight region, of San Francisco for the last two years after aging out of the Foster Care System. She survives with a little help from her three friends, Ash, Hope, and Fleet, and a dog she calls Root.
She cannot remember the last time that anywhere has felt like home.
They get by, by asking for handouts, and grabbing an occasional meal or bed at the shelter. There is no plan for the future.
When Root, runs away from her and into some trees, Maddy follows and stumbles across a dead body.
She sees a man standing nearby, blood on his cheek, and as the only one who can identify him, is drawn into the police investigation by the dead boy’s parents. They are desperate to understand the life that their son was leading prior to his murder.
It may be too late to save their son, but they become determined to help Maddy.
But, to move on from this life, you have to be receptive to help.
Will they get through to Maddy or will she become the next statistic?
* * *
Every year, there is a Vigil held in this San Francisco community for those who died outside or in Marginal Housing. In, 2019 there were 275 names called out in remembrance. (From the afterward)
I wish I could say that I enjoyed this fictional story but it just DIDN’T affect me as emotionally as THE FACTS did. (I was a bit bored, but I am definitely not in the YA age group, to be fair.)
I do applaud the author for humanizing those living in these conditions, and bringing their plight to our attention.
This title will be available on January 19, 2021. I would like to thank the Publisher for my gifted copy.
From the mid 1960’s until the year 2020, a lot has changed in the city of San Francisco. Please allow me to add some sweet verses attributed to the Mamas and Papas:
“If you’re going to San Francisco Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair
If you’re going to San Francisco You’re going to meet some gentle people there”
This novel is about what San Francisco is like in 2019. There are no more hippies with flowers, there are no more Love In’s. There are drug dealers, pimps, child molesters and murderers.
From the blurb you know that: “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”.
I wish that the plot and story itself were as strong as the message. The novel was easy to read, portrayed some interesting characters, and was a good story, but I think it could have portrayed more of how dangerous things really are.
“At the Edge of the Haight” might appeal to teens perhaps 16-17 who might be thinking about what an alternative way to live might be like. Maybe it could even keep some kids from trying to go down this road.
It won the 2019 Pen-Bellwether prize for socially engaged fiction.
It de-glorifies the “live free, I don’t need anyone” mindset.
What I also found interesting was the portrayal of the police in San Francisco, how hard some of them worked to help kids, how their hands were often tied as to how much they could actually do. Of course there were the bad cops, who just wanted the kids out of the park and out of sight. There were many social workers who tried, in different ways, to help these kids. So it portrayed these "helpers" in a good light.
This is a solid 4* from me, I think it could have been a 5* if the story itself had been stronger.
The ending was not definitive, but I guess, in the end, Maddy was still making up her mind. I think she was on her road to a brighter, happier, more fulfilling life. She knew the street wasn’t what she wanted so I think that chapter of her life is over.
This book also broke my heart, I have been in San Francisco many times but not since the 1990’s and not in the area of Haight-Ashbury. I’ve heard now that the beaches are also strewn with needles, etc. So very sad.
I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher through Edelweiss.
At the Edge of the Haight tells the story of mystery, loss, and our connections through a perspective that almost seems overlooked in the current literary world. With the story of a young homeless lady, Maddy, Seligman is very talented in incorporating messages about success in a world that can be rigged against the success of the poor.
I especially enjoyed this quote from At The Edge of the Haight, which can pretty easily capture one of the novel's theme:
"The three of us walked in a tight line back to Haight Street. We took up the whole sidewalk. It was ours, as long as we kept moving."
Undoubtedly the most powerful part of this book for me was the beginning. Katherine introduces us to the characters in an empathetic way, and while I can't relate to their specific situations, there were a lot of moments when reading about their backstories that added a great personal touch. The characters are also simultaneously far from perfect, I found myself questioning the actions of a few of them numerous times throughout the story. But all of these motives for these questionable decisions do just continue to add to the same narrative of community and trauma, and the only thing I hate more than unlikeable characters are perfect characters.
At the Edge of the Haight is a little bit of everything, so don't expect to be reading about a single cut and dry plot. The different experiences and emotions just continue to show a better expertise in writing, and I'd recommend this to people who may have read The Body Politic.
Katherine Seligman's At the Edge of the Haight is a well-written, sometimes emotional look at homeless young people and the challenges they face.
Maddy has been living on the streets in San Francisco for a while now, generally living around Golden Gate Park. She and her friends have their routines—they know when to wake up so they don’t get rousted by the cops, they know where to find food, where they can go for shelter or peace and quiet, and they know whom to avoid. Her closest companion is her dog, Root, who protects her.
One morning when trying to pull Root out of some bushes she finds a homeless boy who has been stabbed to death. The perpetrator sees her and threatens her, and it sends Maddy into a whirlwind of fear. Does she tell the police what she saw and invite scrutiny and danger into her life and the lives of her friends, or can she go along pretending nothing happened?
But gossip travels, even on the streets, and it’s not long before the boy’s parents want to talk to her to understand their son, and the police want her help in catching the murderer. What does Maddy want? Does she want someone to save her, like the boy’s parents would like to do, or does she want to continue the life she’s living? Is there middle ground?
I found this book to be very compelling, and what I enjoyed most is it didn’t seem to fall into so many of the clichés about homelessness that I expected. Maddy is complex and flawed, but not yet cynical, and her story is very compelling. You can understand her indecisiveness given what she’s been through. Not all of the characters are as appealing, but the story hooked me.
This was a thought-provoking read given the number of homeless you see all over—particularly in the San Francisco area. Seligman really did a great job making me feel and making me think.
I was fortunate to be part of the blog tour for At the Edge of the Haight. Algonquin Books provided me a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!!
This award-winning book features Maddy, a young homeless woman in modern-day San Francisco, and is well suited to young adult readers. Maddy has a great dog, Root, and a group of friends that navigate the streets and resources of San Francisco.
It’s Maddy’s dog that brings about the pivotal event of the book. Root takes off into the bushes and Maddy follows, happening upon a young man who has just been stabbed. She sees another man nearby and fearful that he might attack her next, Maddy and Root take off from the scene. The rest of the book deals with the fallout from this event.
There are interesting interactions with the police and how some of them try to help the homeless youths and others are more interested in writing tickets for fees that will never be collected. The police eventually find out about Maddy and being at the murder scene as do the young man’s parents. They all want to talk to Maddy and hope she has the answers they need.
At times there are many resources available to Maddy and her friends, but they don’t seem to want help. They appear satisfied with the life they have chosen, sleeping outside – until 4 am when the police arrive – smoking pot, panhandling, and eating at the shelter.
As winner of the 2019 Pen/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engage Fiction, this one explores the fringes of youth homeless living. While it didn’t completely draw me in, it does explore this lifestyle. I don’t think it was as gritty as it could have been if the audience were adults and I don’t think it would dissuade many from these lifestyle choices. I wanted more from this one!
Thank you to Algonquin Books and Edelweiss for the copy of this one to read.
I wasn’t and still am not sure about this book. I love books that take place in San Francisco and I love books with dogs in them, but when I started this I wondered if I would end up abandoning it. I ended up enjoying it but I didn’t love it.
The cons: The whole way through some things felt just not quite right. Just what is nebulous and hard for me to pin down. There was something about the relationships, how some people behaved, and quite a bit of what was happening in the story, and just everything that felt off somehow. I haven’t lived that lifestyle or been that young in a long time so I can’t vouch for my uneasiness being valid. While San Francisco overall was done well there was one point where I felt the route would not go through the Tenderloin but it was a way to get that neighborhood into the book. And, are dogs now allowed in any shelters/food distribution places? (Maybe. I should have looked it up.) Also, I was not wild about the end.
The pros: I found the main character endearing and appreciated gradually getting lots of information about her background. Giving details about her earlier years and how she grew up made her situation and her choices make perfect sense. Maddy and her story felt genuine, and valid. I relished the San Francisco and area settings. I did love the dog!
I initially put this book on my thrillers shelf because I noticed that it was commonly shelved that way but I don’t consider this to be a thriller. There was a bit of violence and a little bit more than a bit of suspense but the main part of the story seems like straight fiction to me.
I simultaneously read a Kindle e-book and a Hoopla audiobook (except for chapters 8-11 when Hoopla had a major bug and I could not use the app). Both were borrowed from my public library. I wasn’t that wild about the audiobook narration but I chose to listen anyway.
On my way home from work every day, I pass by a small homeless encampment under the bridge. One night, I saw a young family with teens as I was waiting for the stop light. In that brief moment, I saw the residents of that small homeless community and wondered to myself how they are surviving. They seem t have formed a community where each of them care for each other, protecting each other, and supporting each other.
Reading this book by Katherine Seligman “At The Edge of the Haight”, really brought me back to what happens in those lives - the homeless population whom we feel are a part of society’s on-going issue, a sign of a deteriorating community, a nuisance, or a problem with the way mental health is being addressed in this country. Seligman did a fantastic job of portraying a very realistic picture of the lives of the young homeless and how some find this as a chosen lifestyle.
The story is entirely captivating, immersive, an eye-opening glimpse into the lives of these young people – including their struggles in this emotional and thought provoking read.
I don’t think I was fully aware that there’s a genre of literature known as “socially engaged fiction.” even though I’ve read dozens of books that would qualify. The social issue at the heart of this debut novel is homelessness, although the author is careful about describing her characters as “living outside.” Maddy is 20 and part of a small tight knit group of young people living in Golden Gate Park and Selignman does an outstanding job detailing that environment without preaching or excusing. She lays it out as I might expect from an author with her journalistic background. I was fascinated by Maddy, her dog Root and the rest of her world.
Maddy got under my heart. I recognized her and her ache to find some place and some understanding. The moments the author lets us into her soul are incredible:
"It’s not that I didn’t feel like crying, curled close to the warmth of Ash’s body. It’s just that it took so much to get the tears outside on my face. Usually they were backed up in my throat or in my head."
“I was going around with myself inside, where I was doing all the talking, as usual. Trying to tell myself what to do, until my mind got so busy that I couldn’t do anything. It was like a flood coming into a house slowly, the furniture starting to float and drift around. It was violent, but in slow motion."
But the storytelling wasn’t as engaging as the environment. Considering Maddy finds a body of a recently murdered person in the first few pages, I expected to be swept into the mystery, but the plot took forever to develop and it wasn’t until halfway through that I was emotionally engaged. I think, as social commentary, that one more dead person doesn’t really register in the larger problem, it’s powerful - but that message doesn’t make for plot development. And, fair or not, I couldn’t help but compare this work to Eleanor Henderson’s Ten Thousand Saints, which resonated with me so powerfully.
Ultimately, I applaud this author for opening a new world and reminding me that each person I encounter who lives outside has a unique story.
Centering the realities of the unsheltered with candor, At the Edge of the Haight uses a young girl named Maddy to set a spotlight on homeless folk in San Francisco. The novel's selling point is that Maddy stumbles upon a boy just moments after his murder and is thrown into a police investigation while the boy's bereft parents attempt to use forced proximity to her to settle their own grief. Marketed as a literary thriller, I was pleasantly surprised to find the book focused MUCH less on the 'mystery thriller' aspect and more heavily on centering homelessness.
Desperately, I wanted to love the story much more than I did. The audiobook made the writing (which I believe was in need of editing), far more enjoyable; the narrator had the absolute perfect voice to bend Maddy's perspective into Life. However, I am certain I'd have discontinued my read had I been consuming Haight in a physical format.
Still, I deeply suggest this book for anyone who has not experienced homeless, especially those of you who "don't believe in giving money to the homeless" and have never consumed a single written perspective on the unsheltered. Ideally though, read a work from a formerly (or currently) homeless individual in order to put their perspectives first.
At the Edge of the Haight tells the story of a homeless youth, Maddy Donaldo, who lives with her dog, Root, in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. But one day she runs across a young man lying dead, and the man that is almost certainly his killer locks eyes with her. He tells her, “Keep a handle on the fucking dog…I know where to find your ass.”
I was invited to read and review this award-winning novel by Algonquin Books. My thanks go to them and Net Galley for the review copies. It’s for sale now.
At first, I am not sure I’ll like this book. It seems a bit self-conscious, a bit like a public service announcement or an infomercial. I wonder what I have gotten myself into. But about a quarter of the way in, it wakes up and begins to flow. It becomes my dedicated bathroom book, since I’ve been given a physical review copy, and I find myself brightening when I enter the loo. There are any number of places when the author has the opportunity to use an obvious plot device, but she chooses something better. By the end of the story I believe Maddy as a character, and I appreciate the way it ends.
My home town, Seattle, has an enormous problem with homelessness, estimated in the tens of thousands, and most of them are native Seattle-ites that have been priced out of the housing market. I know one of the people out there; others have squatted in my yard until my dog made them feel unwelcome. Not one part of this city is entirely free of tents, cardboard shacks, and other makeshift shelters. So this subject is never far from my thoughts.
The fact is that there aren’t nearly enough shelter beds, whether in open rooms with mats on the floor, hotels with doors that close and provide privacy, or other options, but in reading this book, it is also clear that there are times when it’s better to walk away from free shelter. Take our friend Maddy. The shelter she sometimes frequents is one where the probable killer has seen her. She can’t go there safely. There are shelters where she can’t take her dog. There are others that sound pretty good, but a night filled with the screams of a neighbor experiencing a mental health crisis make the private niche way deep in the park more appealing. The cops range from businesslike 3 AM bush beaters (“You can’t camp here!”) to the overtly cruel, and most of the homeless know better than to try to confide in them. And so it goes.
The main part of this story involves a couple—Dave and Marva—that are the parents of Shane, the murder victim. They live on the other side of the country, and they never understood why Shane wouldn’t come home. No one besides Maddy recalls having seen Shane, and so although she has only seen him once—dead—they latch onto her, vowing to help her since they couldn’t help him. Between their grief and ignorance, however, they bumble around and breach boundaries in ways that are outrageously presumptuous, and when they drag her to their home for Thanksgiving, they introduce her as someone that “knew Shane,” which of course she didn’t. Maddy feels bad for these folks, but she doesn’t want to be their project. It’s a bizarre situation for her to be in.
Though it is marketed as commercial fiction, I think a lot of teens would embrace this story. I suggest that Language Arts teachers in middle and high schools add it to their shelves, as should librarians. The vocabulary is accessible, and despite the quote I lead with, there’s very little profanity.
A powerful, moving novel about the everyday grit of young homelessness tinged with empathy, endurance, and subtlety. Definitely not easy to forget.
Writing: ★★★★ Plot/Pacing: ★★★ Characters: ★★★★
Living in the homeless community in San Francisco, Maddy has banded together with a small group of others in the Golden Gate Park. Struggling to survive, the last thing Maddy expects to experience is a murder.
Having been an unwilling yet captive witness of a young man's murder, Maddy quickly finds herself drawn in to the investigation with the local police and with the murdered man's parents. Maddy didn't sign up for this—and she certainly doesn't want to give up the secrets of her history in order to help the police and the family find closure.
But will she decide to open up given the circumstances? If she does, what then?
I know the above description is pretty vague, but I really didn't want to give too much away about the novel. It's one of those that you really need to experience first-hand and not read in a blurb. I was surprised at how much this novel moved me—which sounds callous, as obviously a novel about young homelessness is one that you'd automatically assume would be moving. And I did assume it would be. But at the same, I guess I underestimated how much it would move me as a reader. There's a lingering thread of sadness mixed with hope mixed with a sense of trapped circumstance in this, and it's an intense cocktail to experience.
This is a powerful debut that is grappling with some heavy, contemporary topics. I'm glad I got to follow Maddy's journey, however hard. I occasionally wished for more depth, but overall a very satisfying story.
Thank you to Algonquin for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
One of the many consequences of this pandemic is that is has brought to the forefront hidden problems like hunger and homelessness. People who were living on the edge found themselves for the first time visiting food pantries to feed their families, and turning to charitable agencies to help them pay rent.
Katherine Seligman's novel, At the Edge of the Haight, shines a light on the problem of homeless young people in San Francisco. As we meet Mad, she is chasing her dog Root who has run off into the underbrush of the park where she and her friends spend most of their day.
Root and Mad stumble upon a young man in the throes of death, and a man standing over him who threatens Mad. Mad runs, fearful for her life. Mad's father left her when she was just a child, and her mother suffered a psychotic break a few years later. She went to live with relatives in a foster care situation, and left as soon as she could.
She ran to San Francisco and found other young people like her- running away from bad situations at home, many who aged out the foster care system with no support or place to go. Mad and her friends sometimes spend the nights in shelter, where they have to be in by 8pm and out by 8am. She goes to the public library, or hangs out in the park during the day.
In addition to the everyday stresses of homelessness- where to get food and money, clean clothes, avoiding the police- Mad now has to avoid the man who killed the young man. The young man's father, Dave, comes around looking for answers to what happened to his son. Dave and his wife want to help Mad out, but they make Mad uncomfortable.
We learn so much about life on the streets in this powerful novel. The scene where Mad and her friend Ash get soaked waiting out a rainstorm in a doorway overnight rather than spend the night in a dangerous shelter is so vivid you can feel the shivering rain on your own skin as you read it.
There are people who are kind to these kids- a librarian who gives Mad paper, envelopes and stamps to write letters, store keepers who let them hang out, people who work in the shelters who try to help them get assistance. There are also people who are not kind, like the gang of thugs who regularly take Mad and her friends' food and money as a toll payment. The people (some with their young children) who want to take photos with the "hippies" made me cringe, as if these young people are tourist attractions.
One thing that caught my attention was something that Mad's mother said- "You can't judge people because you just never know why they do what they do." That line resonated for me.
At the Edge of the Haight won the 2019 Pen/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, a prize initiated by author Barbara Kingsolver, one of my favorite authors. Good fiction makes people more empathetic, and At the Edge of the Haight made me look at homeless people in a more compassionate light. We can all use a little more compassion these days. I highly recommend At the Edge of the Haight, it's remarkable and enlightening.
Thank you Algonquin for a complimentary copy. I voluntarily reviewed this book. All opinions expressed are my own.
At The Edge Of The Haight By: Katherine Seligman
I liked At The Edge Of The Haight much less than I anticipated. The story begins with a shocking disturbing scene, and while I understand the importance of it to the story, I personally wish I had never read the scene. It was too much for me. I'm easily disturbed, and I was soured on the rest of the book. But, most readers likely won't be bothered like I was. My feeling has nothing to do with the writing or subject matter overall because the story is expertly crafted and compelling.
The plight of the homeless is complex and unique to each person. If you drive by and think this could never happen to you, think again. Most of us are just a couple of personal disasters away from the streets and keeping company with these people whom we look down upon with disgust and disdain. I appreciate the message that resonates throughout the story of survival, chance and choice. I hope this book impacts readers in such a way that we begin to see the homeless as actual people of worth in this world.
Thank you Algonquin Books for a free copy to review.
Maddy is a homeless young woman living in the San Francisco area when she stumbles across the body of a young man, and his murderer is nearby. She runs away and tries to kind her own business, but somehow she gets wrapped up in the homicide investigation and the young man’s parents find her and ask her to testify. All she wants to do is get back to being on her own with her dog and her small group of trusted friends.
I’ll be honest, this was a quieter book. Nothing much outside of the synopsis happens but I thoroughly enjoyed the slower pace and how the author really crafted the setting of this book. I’m not sure how accurate the homeless aspects in this book are to real life, but to an outsider it felt pretty believable. The writing drew me in from the first page and I devoured this book in one night.
My only drawback is I’m not entirely sure what the overall point of this book was, but sometimes a book exists to just tell a story and I think that’s what happened here.
If you like literary fiction, I definitely think this one is for you.
Awww San Francisco! I am sure that most people think of the counterculture of the hippies in the 1960s and the colorful history of Haight-Asbury Streets! ~ The Haight or “The Upper Haight’! San Francisco is no longer a city of ‘Love Ins’ but is similar to so many cities ~ with too many who are homeless, too many into drugs, too many murdered, and too many who are abused.
In reading the description of this novel we know it is about the young who are homeless. Maddie Donaldo is twenty and lives in what most would describe as a dangerous area in Golden Gate Park. She is street smart and does her own thing~ she takes care of herself and ‘Root’ her dog. However when she unwillingly witnesses the murder of a young homeless boy, the authorities want to talk to her about what she saw.
As a school counselor I worked with homeless students as well as students who lived with their family in a car. Fortunately my high school has community resource services that I was able to contact for support; which, of course, it not always the case. I was drawn to this story as it won the 2019 Pen/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. I have read other novels about homeless youth. “Brave Girl, Quite Girl” was great. In fact, this started out great. It did get a bit slow moving for me. I love mystery thrillers so my expectation was more on solving the mystery and, of course, wanted Maddie to get her sad life on the path of happiness!
Want to thank NetGalley and Algonquin for this early release granted to me in exchange for an honest professional review. Opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own. Publishing Release Date scheduled for January 19, 2021
This book won the Bellwether Prizec for Fiction, which promotes Books that discuss social issues. The main character is homeless and she lives in Golden Gate Park with her dog and some other homeless teens and young adults.
The writing is very good, and never makes you feel like you are being "taught" about homelessness. You get to know the main character, Maddy, and bits of her backstory come throughout the book.
The main takeaway I had while reading this was the sense of stress and anxiety I constantly had for the characters, and for the unpredictability of every moment of their lives. Every time Maddy left her dog outside a building where he wasn't allowed, I worried she'd lose him. Every time she got separated from the dog I worried they wouldn't find each other again. Another character had a little pet rat, whose life was somewhat precarious as well.
Do not go in thinking this to be a mystery, or you'll be disappointed. It's more of a slice of life story for Maddy at a turning point in her young adulthood, that is affected by the boy murdered in the park, and Maddy's part in the following investigation.
The murdered boy's parents become a big part of the story as well, as they try to understand why their son would leave and lead that life. They place a lot of hope and expectation on Maddy who struggles with how to deal with them.
When I finished the book I thought I wanted something more. But as I reflect further, I like the open ending that allows Maddy to do anything going forward.
Maddy Donaldo is twenty years old and living on the streets of San Francisco, with her dog Root, trying to survive. One day Root catches a scent and rushes into a park, where Maddy finds another homeless kid dying, along with his murderer. Haunted by her fellow street kid’s death, Maddy struggles between trying to survive and trying to emotionally make sense of what she saw. When the kid is identified as Shane by his father Dave, she is pulled into the family’s world, being used as a substitute for the child they lost. As Maddy tries to find out what happened to Shane, she has to decide for herself, what she wants her future to look like. I’ve always heard about the hippie movement and all the young people that moved out to San Francisco, just to live on the street. This book provides an unflinching look at what their lives are like and doesn’t hold back from the violence, the drugs, the dirt or the sense of community that is out there. On one hand, it’s everyone out for themselves but yet in another way, you bond with those who you can, in order to survive. I thought this book was sad yet so important, because it provides a look into what homeless people go through. The tiring, non-stop schedule of getting well, of finding food, of finding money, of finding shelter and finding pleasure where they can. It’s truly amazing that in the richest country in the world, there can be people who live like this-and by amazing, I mean it’s actually disgusting. Regardless, this book was a fantastically written story, that should absolutely be on your list to look out for.
Brief Summary: Maddy Donaldo is a homeless young adult who survives the streets of San Francisco with her friends and dog Root. One day she happens across a murder scene and sees the presumed killer. This leads her to encounters with the police, the boy’s parents, and courtroom testimony. I requested this book through First Impressions because I was interested in learning about the experience of being homeless and the associated social justice issues.
Highlights: Seligman’s narrative of the homeless is experience is by far the best aspect of this novel. I was aghast at several moments about their survival tactics and the injustice they experienced on the streets from gangs who bullied them to the cops who wouldn’t let them sleep in the parks. I learned a lot and will never look at the homeless again the same way. I also found it interesting what help they did or did not accept; and the unsolicited help Maddy received from Shane’s parents. Unfortunately, I can’t say much for the slow-moving plot. I was not engaged by the murder case and it took me over a month to finish this.
Explanation of Rating: 3.5/5; I’m not aware of another book that portrays the homeless experience like this, but the slow-moving plot was disappointing.
Thank you to Book Browse and Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill for an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review
This was definitely different than I was expecting... But not in a bad way... Hmmm. ------------------------
I went into this book thinking that it was going to be about Maddy trying to solve a murder, with lots of twists and near misses. Instead what I got was an intense reminder of how we, as a society, scorn and flat out push homeless people out of 'our' spaces. We act as though because of their circumstances they don't deserve access to the same rights, comforts and privileges that we do. It's sickening and disheartening and unfortunately all too realistic, I can see now why this book received an award for bringing awareness to social issues.
I would recommend this for anyone needing a reminder that you are lucky in more ways than you can sometimes remember while in the moment of whatever discomforts that you might be experiencing. I don't mean that you should read this if you want to feel superior or to pity someone who may be homeless. I want you to read this, actually read this as your eye-opener to a topic that isn't written about often in YA novels. Open your eyes to how severely underrepresented and overlooked the homeless are in real life and outside of it.
Say hello to my new 'abandoned' shelf! At the Edge of the Haight is the first book I have ever DNFed on Goodreads. I really, really tried, but at some point you just have to prioritize your mental health.
I wanted so badly to enjoy this book because a close friend gifted it to me (thanks Kristin!), but it looks like the only thing I'll be cherishing about it is the kind note she wrote for me in the front. Maybe it just wasn't my cup of tea, but this story bled me completely dry. 0% of my brain lit up when I looked at the pages.
The main issue I have with this book is that it seems to drift in and out of remembering that it has a plot, often going off on chapter-long tangents or giving ridiculously verbose and unnecessary descriptions of events that pertain little to the story. None of the characters are particularly engaging to read about, save for maybe Root, but given the fact that I'm not even enthusiastic about a dog is probably a testament to how absolutely unstimulating the words on these pages are. Even the book's supposedly bold kick-off—the murder of Shane—is terribly boring.
I wish Katherine Seligman all the best, but I won't be reading any of her other books. I can't recommend this in good faith to anyone.
The thing I like most about this book is that it doesn't have a happy ending, it has a 'this is real life, and real life is hard' ending. I think it would have been better if some of the other characters were fleshed out a bit, but the main character was spot on.
Maddy Donaldo and her dog, Root, live on the streets. San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is the closest thing to a home she’s had in years and her friends Ash, Fleet, and Hope are the people she now calls family.
Since running away from a foster home, Maddy has learned to stay as lowkey as possible out on the streets. But when she and Root stumble across a dying homeless teen with the killer still hovering about, Maddy’s life gets very complicated.
First, the police come asking questions of Maddy. Then the dead boy’s parents seek Maddy out, believing she can help them understand their son because she was the last person to see him alive. They also want to help Maddy out of her situation - is it due to guilt or trying to replace their son - Maddy is not quite sure. And lastly, the killer is still out there trying to make sure Maddy doesn’t stick her nose where it doesn’t belong.
This book is an absolute gem. It is a social commentary on the homeless population, as much as it is a suspense novel. I love that it is not overtly political. Seligman puts a human face to homelessness and lets her words speak for themselves as we walk alongside Maddy and her friends trying to survive on the streets. We get an eye-opening look at the life of these young people and what led them to this point in their lives. While Maddy embodies courage and independence, we feel that deep need for connection and belonging as well.
Thank you to @algonquinbooks @kr.seligman and @netgalley for an invitation to this tour and a #gifted copy.