CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 3. . . .September 23, 2016
When Sebastien is caught breaking and entering, it seems a natural next step in his self-destructive life. At 16, a veteran of multiple foster homes, Seb shuts out happy memories of his dead parents and has a gift for choosing the wrong friends. His most recent foster parents kick him out, and his future looks bleak.
But it’s Seb’s first arrest, and he’s given one last chance—and one more home – in his old neighbourhood. Mrs. Ford is different from his previous foster parents. She doesn’t yell at Seb, she doesn’t go “psycho” and hit him, she talks to him as if he’s her own son, and she even seems to like him. When Seb connects with a kindly school custodian, he seems to have a chance to turn his whole life around. But old ways die hard, and in his new school Seb is caught up with a childhood friend who sucks him into drugs, gangs and violence. Seb has to make a decision – which path will he follow?
Stepping into Traffic is an uplifting story of a boy faced with a difficult choice. Seb’s voice is realistic. His suspicion about anyone who tries to help him is well-founded after a chain of borderline-abusive foster parents, and his inability to trust is utterly believable.
Though Seb wants to please and desperately wants to recreate a family, his insecurities and his need to belong drive him into substance abuse and lies. Mrs. Ford has enormous patience and confidence in Seb, and her character is unflappable in spite of Seb’s indiscretions. His gradual acceptance and trust in her is a satisfying turn.
The plot of the novel is engaging, and we find ourselves rooting for Seb in spite of his poor decisions. While they occasionally lapse into predictability, and despite the sometimes awkward or dated use of teen slang, the characters emerge as clear role models, for good or bad, and the lessons Seb learns are very clear. The comment on the foster care system and the abuses and resulting damage wreaked on the children in care is disturbing and credible.
While worthy, occasionally the lessons overshadow the story. Though middle school or early secondary readers may not notice, some readers may find the writing overly didactic and the characters manipulated into fulfilling their roles rather than developing as fully rounded people.
Despite the sometimes overly-earnest tone, Stepping into Traffic is an enjoyable and fast-moving read. Students will appreciate the unflinching portrayal of drug- and alcohol-fueled “party life” and will relate to Seb’s inability to trust adults until they prove worthy. The story helps us understand the thinking of a teen who “messes up” and gives an often-needed perspective on the conflict between the need to be loved and the urge to push everyone away.
Wendy Phillips is a teacher librarian in Richmond, B.C. and the author of the Governor General's award-winning young adult novel, Fishtailing.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.