But as soon as the girls cross the Golden Gate, the scheme starts to unravel amid the bellbottoms, love-beads, and bongs. Chloe’s secrets escalate until she betrays everyone she cares about. MJ, who has grave doubts about Chloe’s plan. Her groovy aunt Kiki, who’s offered the girls a place to crash. Her self-absorbed mother meditating back in Phoenix. And maybe, especially, the boy she wishes she’d waited for.
Tell Me More: With the exception of Go Ask Alice, there are very few YA novels that attempt to tell the story of kids faced with the temptations of drugs, sex and “free love” in the last five decades. The taboo subjects that were only whispered about in the 1970s are now blurted out on social media without a thought. The internet has knocked down barriers to communication and knowledge, and it isn’t quite clear yet if that freedom will ultimately help or harm future generations. Susan Carlton makes a brave choice in writing about a teenager who makes reckless choices in an era where she had everything to lose.
Without delving into the morality of abortion, I will say that I was apprehensive about how Carlton would handle the emotional, mental and physical effects Chloe would encounter because of her choice. Stories like this aren’t cookie-cutter material, and writers can’t insert names and still make it a story worth reading. It becomes important to find a heart to the story, the reason for telling it in the first place. If Chloe wasn’t flawed in a familiar and poignant way, there wouldn’t be a reason to care for her. Teens are notoriously stereotyped as apathetic and uninterested in anything but themselves. For Chloe to matter, they need to be able to see themselves in her. Carlton channels this need wonderfully, and makes it clear that there is always more at stake than we can see at any moment.
I was particularly impressed by her choice to use the third-person POV, instead of the easy out of a first-person narrative. Carlton trusts her readers to be smart and savvy as they follow Chloe to San Francisco. There’s no talking down to readers, which is why I would recommend teachers and parents be available to guide their teens through this story. It’s not explicit by any means, but there are questions that will come up and require some additional explanations.
In the end, the great potential of Love & Haight is defeated by the lack of length. There simply isn’t enough to satisfy readers, and while I wouldn’t want the story to go on forever, Chloe needed a bit more closure than she got. I enjoyed the supporting characters immensely, and it would have been great to really tie them all together. The conflicts played out realistically, but I still felt like there was at least 20-25 pages left of story left to tell.
The Final Say: Love & Haight is a complicated and nuanced story of bravery and faith that will keep readers thinking long after they’ve closed the book.
Susan Carlton was born in San Francisco, although (regrettably) she did not come of age in the hippie era. The author of the teen novel Lobsterland and a writer for magazines, including Self, Elle, and Mademoiselle, she currently lives in Massachusetts with her husband. Her college-aged daughters know all the lyrics to Baba O’Riley.