December 15, 2011

Blink and Caution

by Tim Wynne-Jones
Candlewick Press
342 pp.
Ages 14+

Selecting a book cover is not a simple process of finding an image and a font that work.  Check out Quill & Quire's regular page, Cover to Cover, to witness just a few steps in the design process of a single cover.  That said and with the enriching reads of earlier books by Tim Wynne-Jones (see November 30, 2011 blog),  I should have known better than to hastily (and consequently erroneously) predict the story of Blink & Caution (Candlewick Press, 2011).  It is not a story of crime and violence, or of a dark place where bad things happen, or even of traffic. (Don't ask me how I got that one, but I did.)  It is a story of family.

Having left his mother and abusive stepfather for a life on the streets, Brent Conboy a.k.a. Blink has established a variety of strategies to get by without bringing attention to himself: following teens to their lockers to get fresh clothes, grabbing breakfasts from trays outside of hotel rooms and finding privacy at the Toronto Reference Library.  When he witnesses a ruse to create the impression of the abduction of Jack Niven, CEO of a high-profile mining development company, Blink carelessly involves himself by snatching Niven's Blackberry from the scene.  Relentless phone calls from Niven's daughter, whose photo captivates Blink, further entangle him in a journey, both physical and emotional, for which he is unprepared.

Caution is actually seventeen-year-old Kitty Pettigrew from the countryside of Wahnapitae.  Caution, who took to the streets after the accidental shooting death of her cherished older brother, Spence, has evolved handily into the benumbed girlfriend of drug-dealer Merlin, taking extraordinary chances as though willing death upon herself.  But, when Caution realizes the twisted nature of Merlin's "love" for her, she embarks on her own journey, away from Merlin and with a reluctant baby-step towards family.

The inevitable merging of Blink's and Caution's stories at Union Station may begin conflictingly but each unconsciously recognizes the other as an opportunity, a chance to journey together, with the possibility of some positive outcome.  Luckily, Blink and Caution are both gutsy teens with the insight that comes from lives rich in experiences, both comforting and despairing.  Together they pursue the truth behind Niven's disappearance, hopeful that it should prove lucrative for them, never guessing the true value of the wealth they will gain.

The use of second-person narrative (with Blink referred to as "you") is very rare in literature, even more so when coupled with third-person narrative (as Caution's story is told), but Tim Wynne-Jones uses this bold technique impressively, emotionally engaging the reader from several perspectives. Through Blink's and Caution's eyes, we see through "the knife-blade of your vision"(pg. 9) or the "rooming house, tall as a nightmare" (pg. 72); we experience their need for sleep, finally getting "to work on those years of rest" (pg. 173) or Blink's inner Captain Panic, always his herald; we understand Blink's reluctance to ask questions "too jittery to land near a grumpy girl" (pg. 169) and how his voice could be "just a tattered bit of white cloth" (pg. 317).

Tim Wynne-Jones' expressive writing, remarkable characters and intricate plot are perfection.  But, word of warning: read with caution, as it flows so seamlessly that it'll be read in just a blink.

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