Coming of Age in Muskoka includes First Nations Tales

The Roads to Go Home Lake –Christina Kilbourne
Where Lives Take Root –Christina Kilbourne

Rites of passage from youth to adulthood, a universal theme in literature, feature in many "coming of age" books set in Muskoka.

For Muskokans who grew into adulthood here, the most compelling of works in this genre are those informed by the local point of view. There is the reassurance of self-recognition in John Ibbitson's The Landing, drawn with poignancy from his youth in Gravenhurst, or Jim Bartleman's fictional memoir Raisin Wine, chronicling his rites of passage as a Port Carling youngster, or even Gregor Robinson's novel Providence Island set in the Milford Bay area whose protagonist Ray Carrier is a hybrid of outsider and local.

Christina Kilbourne, born in southwestern Ontario and now living in central Ontario, spent her childhood in Muskoka and in 2002 and 2003 placed first in the Muskoka Novel Marathon. In Where Lives Take Root, Kilbourne tells the story of a woman's search for identity and belonging, anchored to her youthful experiences during the 1950s around Go Home Lake.

Refreshing for this genre, Kilbourne reveals how coming of age may not always occur in one's younger years alone, but can equally entail a mature adult's discovery of new aspects of her life by revisiting her adolescent past with fresh eyes and more information. In particular, it is the discovery of her Ojibway ancestry that triggers a revisionist exploration of her own childhood, at a time when her own children are themselves coming of age.

The subtlety and realistic nuances in Kilbourne's artful telling of this voyage of discovery – a reverse coming of age novel – include shifts of memory and point of view, as well as place and time, which cumulatively evoke what those of us who live in them know to be "that small town feeling."

Kilbourne's sequel to this book is The Roads to Go Home Lake, in which a young woman confronts her dark secrets and bittersweet memories of growing up in the 1950s in an abandoned logging town, searching for the family she once fled. There is certainly insight about Muskoka in that.

Each of us experiences graduating into adulthood in a unique way. The make-over is usually an enthralling if tortuous blend of emotions and risks, thrilling adventures and stunning heartbreaks.

Muskoka's societal fault line – running between permanent and part-time residents, and which the young people in these novels must straddle in coming to terms with the world and themselves – spawns complex relationships. So weaving Muskoka into the tale helps these "coming of age" stories touch deeper truths about character and the ways of the world, because the district's inherent dichotomies reflects the ambivalences of life itself.

— Review by J. Patrick Boyer


The Roads of Go Home Lake
ISBN: 978-0-9780838-1-6
BookLand Press, 2006
313 pages 5.5 x 8.5 in
$21.95 CDN/USA paperback

Where Lives Take Root
ISBN: 978-0-9780838-9-2
BookLand Press, 2007
253 pages 5.5 x 8.5 in
$25.95 CDN/USA paperback