{book} blink & caution

on

Blink & Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones

Candlewick Press, 2011.

Hardcover, 343 pages. teen/ya fiction.

Blink & Caution is a great title, and I was not disappointed that the story and the characters so named were worth the intrigue.

Two street kids get tangled in a plot over their heads – and risk an unexpected connection. Boy, did Blink get off on the wrong floor. All he wanted was to steal some breakfast for his empty belly, but instead he stumbled upon [a kidnapping involving an important CEO]. Now Blink is on the run, but its OK as long as he’s smart enough to stay in the game and keep Captain Panic locked in his hold. Enter a girl named Caution. As in “Caution: Toxic.” As in “Caution: Watch Your Step.” She’s also on the run, from a skeezy drug-dealer boyfriend and from a nightmare in her past that wont let her go. When she spies Blink at the train station, Caution can see he’s an easy mark. But there’s something about this naive, skinny street punk, whom she only wanted to rob, that tugs at her heart, a heart she thought deserved not to feel. Charged with suspense and intrigue, this taut novel trails two deeply compelling characters as they forge a blackmail scheme that is foolhardy at best, disastrous at worst – along with a fated, tender partnership that will offer them each a rare chance for redemption.—publisher’s comment.

Need a break from the first-person narrative trend of young adult fiction these days? I couldn’t get enough of Tim Wynne-Jones’ narrative styling for Blink.

Oh, you think. A flock of questions come to mind, but the questions are too jittery to land near such a grumpy girl. So you turn the pages of the newspaper, looking for something else on the story, your story […] Oh, Blink, my smart friend. You have read more these last couple of days than you ever did in your life. Your brain is hurting from all the information in your brain box, flapping around trying to find someplace to roost, like pigeons scattered by a dog. (169)

The clever, quick and energetic flickering captures Blink. The images for metaphors drawn from his environs, just as the sources of his evolution as a character are. Caution’s narrative is a lovely third-person limited that suits the telling of her—a bit of distancing, a necessary watchfulness. The two narratives complement each other well, and as for the characters themselves? This is the kind of pairing readers will also find refreshing; although I was a bit concerned there with that ending. But you see the need for it. The length of the book travels some long and dangerous routes before reaching that end and its youthful (and not so youthful) audiences will likely be looking for that hand to hold.

Blink & Caution is the heart-pounding sort of read, Wynne-Jones making it very clear from the start the sort of peril each of his protagonists are in and that he is willing to keep them there. As the synopsis describes, the harshness of their existence, of the things they have and are going through place this novel firmly on the Teen/Young Adult shelf, but as jagged the edges are, many are allusions left to the vivaciousness of the imagination. It is the sort of read that lends itself to developing compassion in the reader rather than cultivating a gratuitous edge in a voyeur.

Caution is on self-destruct and what constitutes rock bottom for her is painful, as are the efforts and conflicts that draw her out. Blink is a victim of those intersections of rocks and hard places. Survival mode isn’t pretty and the human spirit takes a beating in them both. Of the two, however, Blink has this persistence of being that is hard to ignore. He is so vulnerable, so open to the reader and much of the world around him; yet not weak in any defined way that tends to illicit repulsion. He’s disarming. Wynne-Jones even manages to temper any sense of pity, favoring commiseration instead; which is well-crafted considering many of the readers will have experienced few of the actual circumstances.

However capable a good hero in these adventures should be, these two are tired, confused, and desperately trying to keep it together. And the investment in the story is as much about the Brent/Blink and Kitty/Caution as it is about that onward momentum toward the kind of disaster that they will risk their lives to escape—because they have to care about their lives enough to want an escape.

Other characters pepper the novel, some more attended than others but they live to serve the plot and protagonists. Some may call it neglect. I enjoyed the focus as the development of the protagonists is so finely tuned. Blink and Caution’s storylines cross in the present day, but the collision does not occur until Part II which is 142 pages in. Each line is compelling in it’s own way, weighted in it’s own way. Caution’s line carries her ever closer to the role she comes to play in Blink’s life and line. Blink’s drives the greater scheme of the story, the witnessing of a crime, an investigation, and the desperate grab for some profit from it. Caution injects the paralleling desperate bid for redemption, but redemption isn’t for her alone. And timing is everything.

Blink is my first love of the novel, but Caution, while appreciated before, adds another dimension of the wounded that is invaluable to the story. Add the “Afterword” on an inspired event and Tim Wynne-Jones’ thoughts about it, and you are further compelled to engage more than the heart-muscle. The novel wants to offer more than adrenaline with a touch of romance, but to dwell on the consequences of violence, intentional or no, victim or perpetrator. That he fuels his explorations with such determined characters offers a sense of hope for more than just survival, but redemption and a future happiness.

recommendations:  Blink and Caution is a bit Laurie Halse-Anderson contemporary fiction meets James Patterson teen adventures more heavily weighted toward a masculine version of the former. Wynne-Jones wields a fierce pen with Kitty/Caution, but his rendering of Brent/Blink is a point of adoration. The motel room interaction sealed it for me. I think Brent/Blink is the male youth that so many readers have been missing. If you are anticipating the eventual direction of your younger male reader toward Nick Hornby, Chuck Palahniuk, Joss Whedon, and Guy Ritchie, Blink & Caution is a good predecessor. For all the crap humans the protagonists encounter, there are some model-quality people and relationships as well. High school audiences & up, girls and boys alike, thrill-readers and drama-junkies both; urban dweller or no; for those who(‘ve) experience(d) broken situations or no.

of note: difficult to put down, especially after entering Part II. I stayed up to finish this one.

thoughts? would love to hear them...

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