Summer Reads: Safe Harbour, A Book Review

Continuing with MuskokaStyle’s Summer Reads, Safe Harbour is a young adult novel by Muskoka writer Christina Kilbourne. It’s fiction that leads you down a path of false safety, a path on which easy solutions become a lot more complicated.

The novel begins with Harbour, a 14-year-old girl who finds herself living in a tent in Toronto with her dog, Tuff. She has a limited supply of food, little money, and an abundance of novels to continue her “education”. Still, Harbour won’t admit to being homeless. She claims repeatedly that she’s arrived in Toronto ahead of her father, who will join her in a few weeks on Starlight, a sailboat she calls home. What little information the reader is given in relation to Harbour’s sudden appearance in a foreign city—and why her father hasn’t arrived with her—enriches the mystery and underlying tensions of the story.

When Harbour runs out of money and can’t buy food, she begrudgingly accepts help from a homeless teen named Lise. Together they form a rocky friendship in which Lise helps Harbour survive Toronto’s streets and shelter system, and shines a light on the secrets Harbour is hiding. Except, Harbour believes telling Lise the truth—why she’s in Toronto without her father—will have horrific consequences.

“Suddenly I want to be back in the city, where the noise and commotion distract me, where survival overshadows thinking, where there isn’t the promise of a childhood adventure that might go wrong in one black moment.”

Photo by Kaite Sutey

Although Kilbourne’s story is focused on two disparate people with very real problems of their own, the author manages to illuminate layers of complexity and authenticity in her characters. There’s Lise, a girl who makes light of every situation through a witty sense of humour and the kind of tough attitude one would expect from a homeless teen. And there’s Harbour, a curious girl with a love for books and a soft place in her heart for her beloved dog.

In Safe Harbour, Kilbourne creates a brutally realistic story of two girls struggling to gain control over their lives while riding out the treacherous truths of homelessness. She offers fearless insight into illness, human and animal predators, substance abuse, the cruelties of life outdoors, and on the street.

Safe Harbour (Dundurn Press) is one of those must-reads, a story that promises not to be forgotten, even after the novel has been put down.

About the Reviewer: Kaitlyn Sutey lives in Bracebridge, Ontario. She completed a double major in English Literature and Creative Writing in May 2019 from Dalhousie University. Back at home, she spends most of her time reading and writing novels. Kaitlyn aspires to edit manuscripts for a publishing company, and to one day release a novel of her own. See Kaitlyn here .

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