Stepping Into Traffic reviews

resource links, october 2016

All teens who read this book should give their parents a hug. Stepping into Traffic does an exceptional job of showing how the loss of loving parents can damage a young life. 

Sebastian was eight when his parents were killed in a car accident. He was put into child protection services, and is now moving into his eighth foster home in seven years. Although he was not abused in a life-threatening way, his experiences have badly damaged his self-esteem. He lost a mother who sang to her plants and read him bedtime stories, and a father who coached his little league team. Instead he has been physically beaten by foster fathers in alcoholic rages, forced to eat separately from the family members, given a diet exclusively of wieners and beans, and secondhand clothes. Despite these experiences, Seb still has a good heart: he buys candy for his foster siblings when he can afford it, and feeds a stray dog his leftovers. It is unsurprising that as a teen he is easy pickings for gangs, and the novel opens with his arrest for breaking and entering. His well-meaning social worker must find him a new foster home or he will be placed in a group home: “they should be called grope homes since most of the guys there are either on you for sex or whatever’s in your pockets” (p. 21). 

He is placed with Mrs. Ford, an older widow whose only child was killed in an industrial accident. Seb can’t believe that he is allowed to eat as much as he wants, has new clothes to wear and a well-furnished bedroom. Mrs. Ford lives in the same neighbourhood where Seb grew up, and at the local high school he meets some of his elementary school classmates. He even goes back to his elementary school, and begins to help out the custodian, Mr. Frogley. But the only schoolmate who begins a friendship is Donny, known to the other students as a drug pusher and troublemaker. Despite warnings, Seb gravitates to Donny’s circle of drugs, alcohol and violence. But with the support of Mrs. Ford and Mr. Frogley, he is given a chance to turn his life in a more positive direction, and truly have a home again. 

Sebastian’s story is a clear demonstration of how circumstances can turn a good kid into a “juvenile delinquent”. This book should make every reader think of his or her role to help those with a less advantaged upbringing.

Thematic Links: Foster Care; Teen Drug Use; Self-Esteem.

— Patricia Jermey


cm magazine, 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, CM

SPG BOOK REVIEWS, september 21, 2016

If you’re looking for a new book to get teens back into the habit of reading for pleasure, you won’t go wrong with Stepping into Traffic by K.J. Rankin. Published by Saskatoon’s Thistledown Press, Stepping into Traffic is a sensitive young-adult novel about bad choices and second chances.

Sixteen-year-old Sebastian Till stands at a turning point in his life. We meet him in the middle of a shoplifting spree, which ends when he and his friends are caught and charged. A veteran of the child-welfare system, Seb soon finds himself in his eighth foster home in eight years — and it’s his last stop if he wants to avoid a group home, or worse, homelessness. Mrs. Ford, his new foster parent, seems cool, but Seb’s not prepared to trust her, not after the things he’s seen in other settings. Still, Mrs. Ford feeds him well and gives him space — which he uses to get into more trouble in the guise of a high school drug dealer and his friends. Can Seb find the inner resources to make the changes he knows he needs? His small clutch of new friends, which include a stray dog, may not be enough to help him make the right choices.

This is a tense, moody novel with an identifiable voice and a clear-eyed perspective on the numerous pressures teens face. It touches on bullying and status, playing to teens’ exquisitely tuned sense of the school pecking order, and deals frankly with underage drinking, recreational drug use, and young men’s violence. The plot is suspenseful: each of Seb’s misadventures ups the ante, whether he’s risking being sent to a group home or facing a beating from a gang member. Readers may fear for Seb’s life, but will also root for him because we know that beneath his raw exterior there’s a good-hearted but sometimes confused kid. Rankin has found a protagonist whose perspective is often overlooked in YA books, but he’s an identifiable, approachable, and ultimately likeable character.

Stepping into Traffic is a strong YA novel presented with a fresh point of view and a compassionate theme. It would make a great addition to home libraries and will likely be a popular choice in school and classroom libraries.

— Leslie Vermeer, SaskBooks

mabel's fables bookstore blog: raves & faves, july 20, 2016

Briefly, what it's about: Seb lost his parents when he was young and he's been through seven foster homes in eight years. He makes a rash decision with some sketchy friends to pull a breaking and entering, and when it turns ugly, Seb's world becomes even more complicated: hello foster parents number eight. But the lady he is sent to live with is different, and moving into his boyhood neighbourhood stirs up good and bad memories. But it too is a little different, and maybe that's a good thing. Seb slowly begins to wonder if this is what hope feels like, but he isn't sure, he doesn't know what or who to trust. Gang life has its pulls and perks; even having a bad friend is having a friend. It's not until he finds the belief in himself to dig deep that Seb realizes he may have been given another chance. If Seb wants it though, he'll have to work for it.

Loretta's rave: It must be difficult writing about a boy who is so lost that his friends are able to convince him that crime and drugs are his best option. But author KJ Rankin seems to make this flow. Seb is a great character, he's a real lost boy and I felt very much in his head the whole time, watching him make the wrong decisions while knowing he wants only a good outcome. He is a very real person and his struggle is authentic. The novel certainly speaks to a lot of reasons why kids make bad choices. He's had some bad breaks; throw in a few dysfunctional and abusive foster-home situations and he doesn't have the tools to recognize a genuine offer when he gets one. But Seb is good at the core. He knows what he wants in life but dropping friends, even potentially dangerous ones, means standing up for himself -- and that's a lonely choice to make.

Number of stars: 4/5

Perfect for fans of: Punch like a Girl by Karen Krossing, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.

— Loretta, Mabel's Fables