September 16, 2016

Watching Traffic

by Jane Ozkowski
Groundwood Books
186 pp.
Ages 14-18
August 2016
Reviewed from ebook
“There are so many directions you can go, and no matter what you choose it’s going to have an effect on everything else.” (pg. 151)
It’s the end of summer after finishing high school and eighteen-year-old Emily Robinson is anticipating the departure of best friends, Lincoln and Melissa, for new adventures and locales, Australia for travel and Halifax for school, respectively.  And what of Emily, the girl whom everyone, and I mean everyone, in their small town of Cavanaugh only thinks of as the three-year-old girl whose mother committed suicide in her presence and has had to overcome so much?

Though they’ve been friends since Grade 7 when they both were attending weekly counselling sessions, one to deal with her mother’s suicide and the other with anger issues, Melissa and Emily seem to be at odds this summer.  Emily thinks it’s because of Melissa’s relationship with boyfriend Dan but Emily, burdened by her lack of direction, just doesn’t have the time or make the effort to deal with her messed-up friend, though she’s encouraged by Lincoln and Melissa’s older brother Robert to make an effort.

But meeting Tyler, a new guy whom she meets at the pawn shop where she goes to sell the gold teeth her grandmother has gifted her–Grandma is a wonderful story in herself!–gives Emily the chance to take her life in a different direction, one where she has divorced parents and is someone she wants to be seen as.

Watching traffic from the three overpasses that cross the highway that divides Cavanaugh in two parts is a common past-time for Emily and her friends, but it’s a metaphor for divisions and acceptance, and the movement of people into, through and out of our lives.  Emily’s life may seem tenous to her, not knowing where she’s going, but it’s not unlike her friends who, though they have direction, are apprehensive about moving on, and Jane Ozkowski gets the tone right for these young people who want to move on but only know that from which they come.  Their words of wisdom are both an anathema and a propellant.
"There’s a highway cutting through the whole town, and they think if they follow it they’ll find somewhere better.  Nothing’s better, though.  You can be unhappy here or you can be unhappy somewhere else.  Being happy is more about how you see things.” (pg. 50)
Watching Traffic is Jane Ozkowski’s debut novel but her skill in giving voice to Emily, Melissa, Lincoln, Tyler and others in their perplexity and discomfiture about going forward in life demonstrates a raw understanding and proficiency at telling their stories.  Less about plot and more about characters and their development, Watching Traffic suggests that Jane Ozkowski is the one to watch and continue to read.  I look forward to see and read what’s coming round the bend from Jane Ozkowski.

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I’m delighted to announce that author Jane Ozkowski is a last-minute addition to the impressive contingent of young adult authors reading at this weekend’s Eden Mills Writers’ Festival.  Come for the words!

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this one too; I wondered if there migh be a sequel to follow Emily's story, but it stands alone perfectly well.