Review Detail

Kids Fiction 201
Traffic in LA
Overall rating 
 
4.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
N/A
Rick Rusek lives in Los Angeles, and he is obsessed with traffic and traffic patterns. He has good reason to be; his parents are caterers who specialize in Polish food, and their work takes them all over the city. Also, he has motion sickness so severely that he can't really travel anywhere by car. Since his older brothers are off at college and he is not able to pitch in to help with the family business, he's transferred to a local elementary school to which he can walk so his parents don't have to take the time to drive him, and spends his after school time with his friend Mira and her family. He listens to traffic reports and watches web cam coverage of traffic, and thinks of constructive ways that the traffic patterns or signage could be changed so that the flow would be better. When Mira's Girl Scout troop decorates old highways signs for an outdoor art project spearheaded by famous artist Anna Diamond, Rick sees a great opportunity. Ms. Diamond's sister is the head of Althea Torres, who is the head of the Department of Transportation, and Rick thinks this might give him a boost to get his Snarl Solutions to someone who can implement them. Not only that, but when the highway signs are decorated, Ms. Diamond has to attach work orders to them so that they are reinstalled. Rick manages to get some of his ideas put up for public view, and is gratified that traffic seems to be improving so much that his parents' travels are easier. Soon, however, he finds that there is a bicycle group sabotaging his signs, and finds that even Mira's abuela is involved in efforts to control traffic! Since his parents' business is struggling because they have had to cut down on jobs to take care of him, Rick really wants to help out. Will he be able to find a way to get the Department of Transportation to take his Snarl Solutions seriously, and will his parents be able to get a lucrative studio catering gig?
Good Points
First of all, best character name ever. Sounds just like someone with whom I would have gone to high school! Middle grade literature has been having characters with a wider variety of challenges when it comes to medical conditions, and this is the first instance of someone with pernicious motion sickness. This is also the only book I can think of where the main character has an interest in traffic patterns. The details about life and driving in Los Angeles that go along with this are enlightening and make the opening scene in La La Land make so much more sense! All of the little elements (Polish food, economic difficulties, fiesty abuela with a HAM radio, hanging out with Girl Scouts) added up to a fun story. I also appreciate how invested in biking the author is!

Public art is interesting; I'm a big fan of yarn bombers, even though I would rather knit a sweater. The idea of taking old highway signs, decorating them, and putting them up along the highway, will appeal to young readers. It sounds dangerous and expensive to me. What if the duct tape and paint come off and the sign tells people to do something that's just wrong? I worried way too much about this, but students won't.
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