Cover Image: Safe Harbour

Safe Harbour

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Member Reviews

Due to my infrequent association with middle-grade fiction, I have very minimal expectations once I realise I am reading one. I do not read the blurb of a book once I have queued it into my reading for thrills. This is one book which tackles quite desperate situations, prejudices, all the while not talking down to the audience.
Harbour is waiting; she has instructions from her father to hunker down in Canada and wait for his arrival. She has been trained by him and is 'odd' by comparison with other kids of her age. The guiding light that she is unaware she needs comes in the form of a homeless girl who left home years ago. The content is sad for the most part, but there are twists hinted at which are never quite the expected ones when the revelations come around.
There is a lot of story within fewer pages, and the author's narrative skill kept me invested. It is probably too harsh for a much younger audience, but teens could read, learn from and enjoy it. Some events seem a little far-fetched but suit the story and therefore its presence(s) can be accepted.
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3.5/5 stars

Fourteen year old Harbour is not homeless, she tells herself. She’s merely waiting for her home — a thirty-six-foot sailboat — to arrive with her father at the helm… Until then, she spends her summer living in a tent with her dog, a credit card, an eccentric reading list and her dad’s promise that he’ll be within a few weeks. But when months go by without a word from dad, her credit card gets declined and summer turns to frosty fall, things are starting to look fairly bleak.
With the help of a homeless girl named Lise, Harbour struggles to navigate her life on the streets, and tries to find out the truth about what happened to her father.

Before we start: a small disclaimer:
Christina Kilbourne choses to tackle some heavy topics, some of which like homelessness and the American shelter system, do not get featured much in YA fiction. I very much appreciated that, and curious to see how she would approach this. This subject matter however, does make it hard for me to give you an informed opinion. I’m not from the U.S. and social security, child welfare and the shelter system are very different where I’m from. In short: it was hard for me to suspend my disbelief at times, as I kept thinking that none of this would fly, and there’s no way a child could slip through the cracks this much.
At the same time, I’m aware that it might be far from the reality I know, but maybe not far from the reality in America. I truly hope it isn’t, but if it is: please America, get your social system together… This shouldn’t be our reality…

About the book:
Despite all the heavy topics, Christine Kilbourne does a brilliant job of balancing out the heavy moments with the lighter ones. Most of that comes from the character of Harbour herself, who is a wonderful character to read from. It’s often difficult for an adult-author to write from the perspective of a child or teen, but Kilbourne nails it with the portrayal of this 14-year old teen: she has the right amount of maturity to take basic care of herself for now, but has enough naivety and childlike wonder in her to show she’s far from a grown-up.
It’s this childlike lookout that makes the book a bit lighter: like a true child, Harbour is able to see the fun and adventure in some aspects of her situation. In her friendship with Lise and childlike naivety, she tries to create her own fun be pretending this is all a big camping trip, instead of a life-altering crisis. As an adult it’ frustrating to see her behave like this, but it’s authentic for her age, and Kilbourne makes sure never to cross the line to romanticising Harbours circumstances.
The writing style and pacing are accessible and match the target audience well, making for an engaging story that fourteen-year-old-me would have loved and learned a lot from.

Apart from all the good, I have two points of critique that got in the way of my enjoyment. I mentioned suspension of disbelief earlier. Throughout the book we learn that Harbours father has some eccentric beliefs, and that the circumstances surrounding his boat trip may have been a bit suspicious. Although I can see how Harbour wouldn’t have recognized this, being a child and unable to distance herself from the situation, I’m not buying that nobody else noticed. I just couldn’t understand why nobody would step. Even Lise who’s a bit older ánd has distance to the situations should have been able to see something was off… I don’t think it’s the best message to send to young teens to tell them it’s okay not to call in authorities in this case…
My second dislike was the ending. About 70% in I began to prepare for a tear-jerker ending. Harbours situation seemed so bleak that there was no way this was going to lead to a happy ending. Yet somehow, the author tried to put that spin on it in the end. It felt very rushed and unbelievably convenient, and took a lot away from the messages the book had to give.

Many thanks to Dundurn Press for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Dundurn Press and NetGalley provided me with an electronic copy of Safe Harbour. I voluntarily chose to review this book and my opinion is freely given.

Safe Harbour is the story of a fourteen year old girl, waiting in a tent in the woods for her father. Harbour has a dog, a supply of tuna, and books to pass the time. Will a chance encounter with a teen, not unlike herself, help Harbour to come to certain realizations about her situation?

Toronto in the summer is pleasant for camping out, but as winter approaches, Harbour sees her options dwindling. The author does a good job of giving her main character a set of challenges to overcome and some street smarts with which to help navigate her situation. Safe Harbour highlights the issues of homelessness, especially as it relates to teenagers. The only part of the book that was lacking was the ending, as it seemed that the author wanted to wrap everything up in a neat package. Readers in the target audience will like Harbour's resilience and her determination, so I would recommend it to others.
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I enjoyed this one and thought it was an overall good novel with strong characters and plot. Definitely would recommend.
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This book only took me 24 hours to read. It was a quick and easy read that kept me engaged wanting to learn the mystery of Harbour and Tuff's past. I loved Lise and Harbour; the character development was amazing. I lived through Harbour and the heart wrenching moments that she has experienced while practically being homeless. Great read and can't wait to read more!
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Safe Harbour is a YA contemporary novel with important themes of homelessness, mental illness, trust and friendship.

"I don't think he misses the boat at all. But I do. I miss the slap of the waves on the hull and rocking in a half doze on the glinting sea. I miss Dad, too. But never mind." 

Harbour has had an unconventional childhood to say the least. She's living in a tent in Toronto with her faithful dog, waiting for her dad to join her from Florida on their yacht. They're planning to winter in Toronto, which the locals tell her is crazy. When her dad is late arriving, and her credit card gets declined, Harbour starts to worry about what she'll do as winter approaches. She has to learn to accept help from a homeless girl called Lise.

This book was a pleasure to read. Each page kept me wanting more and more. The characters were delightfully real and I felt so much for them.

As I was reading, sat in my cosy warm house with wind, rain and even snow raging outside, I began to feel very grateful for what I have. Reading about Harbour, Lise and Tuff just trying to stay warm and fed made me feel incredibly lucky and also somewhat guilty. It's always impressive when a book makes you think and look inwards. It's nice to be reminded at times to appreciate the things we mostly take for granted.

Another thing I loved about this book - we get closure. I wasn't left with a cliffhanger, I didn't have to make up the ending in my head. I felt satisfied with where Harbour's story finished. That's not to say there weren't threads still to tug at, but we can't have all the answers can we.

I would recommend this to any fans of contemporary YA. It's very well written and will easily suck you in. Can't wait to check out other books by Christina Kilbourne.
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ARC provided by netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

i really enjoyed this book, it covered topics that are rarely talked about or even skimmed at all in the book community; such as homelessness in youth and schizophrenia. 

harbour has lived most of her short life on a boat, called starlight with her dad and her dog, tuff stuff. when one day, her dad has to do things on his own for awhile and lets harbour off at a dock and tells her he will meet her in toronto in five weeks. 

knowing nobody and being so young has left her living on the streets with tuff. with winter fast approaching and no word from her dad on when he will be arriving, she has to figure something out fast and how to get food before the cold snap hits and they freeze to death. 

i recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a book that touches on the topics mentioned previously. this was a hard read because you start feeling a connection to tuff and harbour and just want them to be loved and warm and well fed. 

the ending hit me harder than i was expecting and i shed a few tears. worth the read and i will be purchasing my own copy in the future to have on my shelves. 

also, this cover is so simple, yet so meaningful to the story and breathtakingly beautiful.
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I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.   Thank you NetGalley.

Harbour is a fourteen year old seemingly abandoned by her father.    When we meet her, she is living in a tent with her dog Tuff waiting on her dad to come back..    SLowly things begin to unravel.    Harbour finds herself having to make some tough choices and figure out who she can and cannot trust.  

This book is definitely in the YA genre, so it may not be for everyone.   

I feel like it was fastpaced and easy to read/follow. 

Solid read.
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Safe Harbour is a book that just came out on December 10! It follows 14-year-old Harbour and her dog, Tuff, as they live in a ravine in Toronto. She is awaiting the arrival of her father who is sailing his way up from Florida to meet with her. Quickly, things start to unravel and she has to decide who to trust and who to hide from.
I felt like this book was good, but it was not one of my favorites. There were moments while I was reading it where I was slightly taken aback by the dramatic changes in what was happening and how the main character was acting. As the book came to a close, things started to clear up and those actions made more sense. But! I still could not get over how jarring it had been.
If you enjoy YA, this one is great! If you don't, it probably won't be your favorite story about teenagers.
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Though I felt Safe Harbour was lacking in some areas, the book had a great take on homelessness, especially through one of the characters, Lise, and her experience on the streets and shelters. 
The plot was fine, though I wish there was more to it. There was never a moment of the book of peril, where I was holding my breath to find out what would happen next. 
In all, though, this was a fast YA read that I enjoyed a little bit. I’d recommend the book to those who are looking for a quick, mild YA read.
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I'm not really sure how I feel about this book. On  the one hand, it's a careful and in depth exploration of the life of a homeless teen. We see how she became homeless and the lack of alternatives. On the other hand,  I found her constant denial of her homeless status and willingness to believe the clearly ludicrous story ste was telling frustrating. The starting point of her journey from Florida to Canada was already a stretch. And there were a lot of hints of something more nefarious to early childhood in Florida that never went any where.
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Harbour is a young teen fending for herself on the streets of Toronto, but she claims to not be homeless, just waiting for her father. Her father is going to sail to Toronto and everything will be fine. But when summer slides into fall and into winter, Harbour and her loyal furry companion Tuff, need to figure out how to survive the cold Canadian winter. She befriends another young girl who shows Harbour and Tuff the ropes, but teaches her about friendship.

Safe Harbour deals with homelessness and mental illness in a gentle and empathic manner. I recommend Safe Harbour for grades 6+ and wonder if we'll see it as a MYRCA title in a couple years.
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Going into this story I did not know where it would go.
I had some ideas, but while reading my thoughts about the ending changed a lot.
The concept of a character living alone in a tent/being homeless is new to me, and I enjoyed reading about it. I liked that it wasn't repetative in that she was only looking for food or money all the time, but things really happened during her journey.
In the end I enjoyed the story.
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Harbour is currently homeless and in Toronto along with her dog. She's only 14, but she needs to keep that fact hidden from those she encounters. It's just a matter of days before her dad arrives with their sailing vessel from Florida. Once he arrives, she can stop living on the streets. 

As the weeks pass, Harbour finds life a little harder. It's getting colder at night. It's harder to stay dry and warm. Her father gave her a credit card to use until his arrival. When that card is declined while buying foods, Harbour starts to worry. It's been a while since her dad's last call. What's taking her dad so long, why isn't he answering his phone, and why is his card no longer working?

I really struggled with the dad in this book. I cannot imagine sending a 14-year-old and family dog all the way from Miami to Toronto alone. The mom in me got angrier and angrier as the story progressed. If you're like me, stick with it. The story does take a close look at mental illness today. It plays a part in this story, but I won't go into detail.

I think the details regarding homelessness could have been a little grittier. I've sat down and talked to a few homeless people in my life. A middle and high school friend became homeless. While many of the details in this book are spot on, some somethings were overlooked. One thing every homeless person I've talked to will say, they appreciate when people hand them items like toilet paper and baby wipes. Money is good, but sometimes the necessities are even better. Many are turned away from libraries and such and will bathe in rivers, ponds, and lakes instead. Some things seemed softened, likely due to Harbour's age, but I know from my friend that assaults, abuse, and being chased out of stores are almost daily occurrences for homeless teens.

I did think the story wound up a little too fairy-tale perfect. Don't get me wrong, I was thoroughly pleased with all that happened, but it was also a little rushed after chapters of wondering if she'd be able to survive and what happened to her dad. You'll see what I mean when you read it.

I did enjoy Harbour's story. I can see why it was softened, mainly due to her age, and the target audience, but I do think that teens should know it's not always as easy as Harbour had it.
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Thank you to NetGalley and Dundurn for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Safe Harbour debuts December 10th.

Safe Harbour is one of a few books I’ve read this year that I’d put in the category of “issue books,” i.e., books that focus on particular real world situations that might not affect all readers, but help give insight and understanding. Myself I wouldn’t normally peg as an issue book kind of reader since I can really bristle at anything that feels too preachy, but Safe Harbour really spoke to me; I was rooting for the MC from page one, especially because she’s in such a perilous situation: a fourteen-year-old on her own in Toronto waiting for her transient father to arrive on his boat. All she has to her name is a tent, a meager stash of cash, a maxed-out credit card, a phone, tuna cans, and soda crackers–oh, and she has a dog that she also has to provide for. And winter is coming, and the MC, who is used to warmer Florida weather, has no idea of the scope of a northern winter.

It’s an unlikely story, but Kilbourne does a great job helping readers see how events could have led to this point. Be prepared for a harrowing story: Safe Harbour illustrates real nice and clear how easily someone can become a victim of sex trafficking, lose a finger to frost bite, or let love (for example, for a pet or a family member struggling with mental illness) keep you from taking steps toward safety. Things worked out okay in the end, but I was praying for the MC along the way.

The characters are the shining feature of this story. For once, I was fully on board the unreliable narrator wagon–I’m not always into unreliable narrators, but I thought it worked splendidly for Safe Harbour. I did think the end wrapped up a bit too neatly and wasn’t that believable, but it didn’t spoil the book in any way. If you’re looking for an issue book that will take you on a roller coaster of emotions and doesn’t get too preachy, Safe Harbour is a good choice.
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A good read for the YA audience.  Harbour, a 14 year old girl, and her dog Tuff find themselves without resources in Toronto- and winter is coming.  Luckily, they meet Lise, who helps them understand how to understand on the street.  This one should make the reader think twice and more sympathetically toward the homeless.  While parts of it are grim, that's reality.  Kilbourne circles around but never hits very hard on the subject of mental health (but this is meant for as YA, not adult readers).  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.
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Rating:   4 street-smart stars

Oh Harbour, how have you found yourself in this situation?  We first meet fourteen-year-old Harbour as she is camping out in a park ravine in Toronto, Ontario.  It’s the middle of summer and she’s got plenty of tuna fish and crackers to keep her fed, and her dog, Tuff Stuff (‘Tuff’ for short) to keep her company.  Harbour’s Dad selected the spot.  Then he sent her up by bus from Florida to get the tent camp set up in Toronto.  He insisted that he would sail their live-aboard boat up from southern Florida in just a few weeks.  

The weeks turn into months.  Dad’s credit card stops working.   Dad stops answering his phone.  Harbour runs out of money.  The only bright spot in Harbour’s life is Lise.   Lise is a homeless teenager who knows how to survive on the streets.  She befriends Harbour and shows her ins-and-outs of living on the street.  Harbour can’t move into a shelter because they don’t allow dogs.  Harbour cannot abandon Tuff.  Every day turns into a struggle to gather food and stay warm as winter sets in.  While this book is categorized as a Young Adult novel, it tackles some very adult issues.  It shines a bright light on the plight of the homeless and mental illness.

This book is full of compassion and wit.  I cared what happened to Harbour and Lise.  After reading this book, I had a better idea of what homeless face as daily struggles; finding food and safe shelter; staying clean; and trying to move forward away from homelessness.   There was also an element of mental illness in the story.  The author skillfully described the symptoms and inner voices of the mentally ill.  The characters struggling with it were humanized and three-dimensional.  As this story shows, mental illness touches many people in the orbit of the actual person suffering from the illness. 

The only thing that I take issue with in the book is that Harbour and Lise’s storylines were just too neatly wrapped up.   The rest of the story was so realistic, but the ending was just a bit fantastical.  Hence, my 4-star rating.   I would recommend this to readers (young adult, or adult) who like a mystery accompanied by some relevant social commentary.  I have whole-heartedly recommend this entertaining read to my friends.  

‘Thank-You’ to NetGalley; the publisher, Dundurn Press; and the author, Christina Kilbourne for providing a free e-ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Title:  Safe Harbour
Author:    Christina Kilbourne
Genre:  YA
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

Harbour is fourteen years old and living in a tent in a ravine outside Toronto with her dog and what feels like a million cans of tuna. She’s not homeless—she’s just waiting for her dad and their thirty-six-foot sailboat to arrive. She can’t tell a soul about her past, not if she wants to remain safe. So she ignores the overtures of friendship from homeless Lise as she waits for her dad.

Then summer turns to fall and her dad still hasn’t arrived. The eccentric reading list he left her didn’t cover how to survive in a tent in the winter, and soon Harbour’s confidence in her father fades, and she’s forced to accept Lise’s help if she wants to survive. 

This was an excellent read. Harbour doesn’t seem like she’s only fourteen—she has a much more mature voice—and with everything she’s been through, I can see why not. Her struggles were so vividly portrayed that I almost felt cold when she did. There are a lot of scenes that show an intimate look at being homeless—and surviving—and this book was both sad and full of hope.

Christina Kilbourne is from Ontario. Safe Harbour is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Dundurn Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
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This book is heartbreaking, but very well written. It's a nice change of pace to read about an underhoused teenager who doesn't hate the world, but instead loves her freedom.
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Unfortunately Safe Harbour just wasn't what I was expecting and I couldn't really get into it because I was unexpectedly comparing it to another book I read. 

I'm quite passionate about homelessness and like to try and read more about different people's experiences but sadly I didn't finish Safe Harbour. It felt a bit slower than my usual reads and whilst I felt for Harbour I was expecting the book to be a bit more intense or emotional and it didn't really grip me by the heartstrings.

From what I did read the characters were realistic and relateable. Harbour is down to earth and easy to like despite her situation. So far Erica the librarian and Lise another homeless girl are compelling and likeable too. 

The writing is eloquent and has a nice balance of dialogue and description which I found impressive given our main character is usually solo and could fall into the trap of overly descriptive or self rambling writing.

I think my issue with this book is I was comparing it to one of my favorite books also about a homeless teen trying to hide her homelessness from her school peers. Because I kept thinking of that I think I made unnecessary comparisons and that's what made it harder to read for me despite it being a well written book. 

Overall I still believe this book has HEAPS of potential and believe it will be well loved by those that read it. 3.5 stars but rounding up to 4 as can't do halves. 

As this was a DNF I have not posted this review on social media. I am more than happy to do so, please just email me at and I will post it to Instagram, Facebook and/or
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