Wednesday, January 25, 2017

What we're reading: Edgy teen tale

I read Blink and Caution, by Tim Wynne-Jones, for the first time more than five years ago, and I'm not sure whether I ever reviewed it here, since our blog has only been in existence since 2012. But I recently decided to reread the book, since I was considering talking about it with a group of prospective teen librarians, and was delighted to see that it held up and that I still liked it upon second read; so I thought I'd feature it. Also, even if I did review it before, five years is a lifetime in which 8th-graders graduate from high school and probably quit reading this blog, so why not?

Blink and Caution are two kids in trouble. The story starts with Blink (because he has a tick that causes him to blink a lot), a street kid who has dressed in his preppy teenager "costume" (which consists of clean khaki pants and the right kind of shirt and shoes, to help him blend) and has gone into a hotel and up to the 16th floor (a random choice) looking for breakfast. The goal is to stroll down a hall with people's room service trays sitting outside their doors and see what food you can scavenge from them without being noticed or caught. He's working on that when he inadvertently witnesses a kidnapping--or is it? The guy didn't look like he was under duress. He also left behind a bunch of stuff in the hotel room, including money, and a phone with a pretty girl's picture on it--who could resist taking it? But this has put Blink in the spotlight with some not-so-nice guys, and he's trying to figure out how to hide out from them but also do the right thing regarding the kidnapping.

Caution (as in "use caution") is on the run for a different reason--she put herself into a relationship with a sleazy drug dealer when she first hit the street; now she has run away from him, and he wants her back, partly because she's an asset, and partly because she's ripped him off. She collides with Blink and takes advantage of him too, but then feels unexpected remorse and lets herself get caught up in his plans and fate.

I like the book because the tale of the kids' street life gives the story a gritty, realistic feel and provokes various thoughts about social justice. But it also includes a suspenseful thriller component, as the two of them get tangled up in solving the mystery of the kidnapping, which is equally engaging.

I also enjoyed it because of a quirk of the writing style, although I was initially worried it would put me off; the book is told from the points of view of both of the teens, and while Caution's story is a standard third-person narrative, Blink's is told in second person, a trick usually reserved for poetry. When you first start reading it, the narrative can be confusing and maybe a little irritating ("It's noon; you are in the park. You look around and what...?"), but soon it hooks you in and makes Blink's experience more immediate and more compelling.

That isn't to say that Caution's story, told in a more traditional manner, isn't equally fresh. Wynne-Jones's characterizations of everyone in this book (particularly the two protagonists) are vivid and immediate. The only possible flaw of the book is that it takes a long time for the two to cross paths; I think I would have liked it better had that happened sooner. But other than that, I can't find fault!

The final comment I have is that while this novel offers a true picture of two teens who fall through the cracks, it offers redemption and hope in the end. One of the other edgy teen books about kids living on the street that I frequently recommend to people is Almost Home, by Jessica Blank, and although I liked it for some of the same reasons, that book as a whole is unrelievedly bleak. This one definitely leaves you with a better outcome, although that seems doubtful at moments.

We own an audio book version of Blink and Caution as well. Check it out!

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