"Hate ricochets but kindness does too."
Julian and Adam could not be less alike. Julian is quiet, withdrawn, a loner. Adam is loud, boisterous and popular. Everyone is drawn to Adam's gregarious smile and upbeat nature, Julian is a target for bullies. As boys they were reading buddies and then, after Julian's parents died, they shared a bedroom for a few months, before he went to live with his uncle and they lost touch. Now at the same high school, Adam is drawn to Julian, at first because he is helping the school psychologist but then because he genuinely wants Julian back in his life. As Julian tries to make sense of this unexpected friendship, his home life begins to unravel, leading to consequences neither boy is prepared for.
*Massive Trigger Warnings* This book was one of those books that has you scrutinizing every quiet kid in your class, wondering if they're ok, hoping you're not missing the signs that they really are not. I loved Adam, the outgoing kid with ADHD who charms the socks off every adult and makes every kid feel seen, all while dropping his phone in the toilet and tripping over his own feet. But while Adam is important, this truly is Julian's story. Told in chapters alternating between Adam's perspective and Julian's, at first it seems that Julian is just a kid who struggles; struggles with reading, struggles with friendships, struggles with depression after his parents' tragic death in a car accident. As the relationship between Julian and Adam deepens, so too does the amount that we are let in to Julian's life at home. And this is where the trigger warnings come in. This is a story of child abuse, pure and simple. This is a story of a child placed in the care of an uncle who is deeply disturbed and who physically abuses a young boy. It is the story of how abusers can make their victims fall silent, of how abuse twists the minds of all involved. It is also a story of how small kindnesses can change one person's trajectory in life. It is not a story I would recommend for anyone who has experienced abuse or is in the foster care system. The depictions of the abuse are detailed and raw and real, told through Julian's eyes and lived over and over. It is a book I would recommend for teachers and others working with young people, to remind us to look for those kids that hide at lunch, those kids that miss multiple days in a row, those kids that seem to have no friends. It reminds us that we won't necessarily get answers from those kids but perhaps we can, through our words and actions, let them know that they are seen and valued. It reminds us that kindness matters and people do too.
,I was drawn to this book for a couple of reasons - first, the setting - my high school hometown, Toronto; second, I liked the idea of diving into the world of homeless teens. At first, the premise for how Harbour ends up in Toronto turned me off - what fourteen year old girl actually believes that her father would send her to camp out in a big city while he sails from Florida all the way to Toronto? As the book continues and Harbour begins to develop a relationship with a homeless teen named Lise, however, Kilbourne weaves a more and more believable explanation, slowly revealing bits and pieces of the whole story until you can see exactly how this could have come to be. This slow reveal is what really made this book for me; it kept me reading and it kept me guessing as to what the next little piece was going to be.
The look in to the lives of homeless teens is well done - revealing both the positives (the kind and caring shelter worker) and the negatives (predatory men, eating out of dumpsters, addiction, cold weather) with empathy and respect. The ending, while a little to coincidental for my taste, is not picture perfect and you are left with just enough questions to keep it from feeling like it was wrapped up with a tidy bow.
Safe Harbour is not a gritty look at the life of teens on the streets of Toronto as the flyleaf might lead you to believe; rather, it is an exploration of a young girl coming to terms with her family, friends and the harsh realities of life. Sure, the desperation of life camping out in a ravine in the middle of a big city, with no money and no lifelines underscores the story and provides the background for pivotal moments, but the true beauty of this book lies in the gradual unfolding of Harbour herself. As Harbour says at the very end of the book "I don't know everything about how I feel, or anything about how I should feel. I don't even know how I want to feel. But I know without a doubt that the ground is solid beneath my feet and it feels good."
Gr. 7 and up. Be aware of language and some content (drinking mouthwash, sexual predators - - implied). There is mention of a free downloadable teacher's guide but I was unable to find it on the Dundurn Press website (perhaps it will be available after the book is officially released Nov 2019).
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