‘Blink and Caution’ by Tim Wynne-Jones

Book Reviews

Reviewed by Harriet Zaidman

Homelessness— it’s a state of being in Canada, with young people forming a large percentage of those without shelter or security. It’s not hard to become homeless. In Blink and Caution, Tim Wynne-Jones creates typical characters that flee to the streets when their lives spiral downward. Sympathetic characters are a hallmark of Wynne-Jones’s work, which has deservedly won him the Governor-General’s award for The Maestro and Some of the Kinder Planets as well as a slew of other honours for his engaging novels, short stories and picture books.

The main character in this story is a teenage boy whose troubles have caused a nervous tic. Blink is poor and semi-literate; home for him means both abuse and neglect. The other is a girl who takes the name Caution, the bright product of a happy middle class family who blames herself for accidentally killing her brother while hunting.  Blink and Caution become fish out of water in different ways and both use skills learned in their respective pasts to help each other at critical moments.

It’s a good setup, and there’s a silent tension as the story unfolds alternatively between the two characters. Blink’s chapters are told by a second-person omniscient narrator, creating a sense that Blink is watching himself, planning, calculating his every step. The plot is admirable – truly Canadian. TWJ (as fans of this smart, funny Canuck writer fondly think of him) touches on important social and political issues that teens should be thinking about. But ultimately these issues are only tangential to the characters’ personal problems, which cause the energy of the plot to dissipate.

Blink is scouring food from room service trays in a hotel when he sees a businessman walking comfortably down the hall with a couple of thuggish types. The businessman tosses his cell phone back into his wrecked hotel room, setting Blink on an investigation that will take him away from the unpleasant but knowable streets of Toronto to the woods north of Kingston, trying to find out whether the businessman, Jack Niven, has been kidnapped or has set up his own disappearance to influence the stock market position of his mining company.

In his journey Blink becomes linked with Caution, a girl whose lack of self-worth is such that she assumes she will never escape the clutches of her drug-dealer boyfriend, the aptly named Merlin. She discovers his magic is no more than a GPS locator sewn into her jacket, but she is spooked enough to leave Toronto, meets Blink on the train to Kingston, and gets involved in his quest.

Blink realizes real life is more interesting than video games when he learns about speculation that Niven was kidnapped by native protestors who don’t want their land exploited. His road to literacy and education begins when he picks up a Globe and Mail and reads about a hostile takeover attempt against Niven’s company by a Japanese conglomerate. Blink becomes engrossed with the business world; it’s like a light goes on.  Wynne-Jones must feel it’s too much for Blink and the teen reader to figure out by him or herself and has Niven explain the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur with the comment, “Why I’m explaining any of this to you, I do not know.”  Unfortunately, it feels as artificial and inserted into the plot as Blink’s unnatural blinking.

Caution’s self-loathing has taken her away from the people who love her. After she musters the courage to leave her controlling boyfriend she finds her family again, but conveniently hasn’t noticed the weight or bulk of the GPS he’s sewn into her jacket. When it’s discovered she leaves her sanctuary seconds before learning important information that might change her decision to go.

There are other challenges that make the plot unrealistic. Blink drives out to a hunting lodge Niven owns, but a reader would wonder why the police haven’t got it under surveillance. Fingerprints Blink left behind at the hotel expose his identity. He also leaves fingerprints behind on the car he drives up north and abandons, but he’s never questioned about it, even though the police have already visited his parents’ and grandparents’ homes. Similarly, the resolution to Niven’s kidnapping defies credibility.

The two teens do work out their problems in the course of their predicament, but long swaths of dialogue that are supposed to build a possible romantic connection don’t ignite passion. Blink and Caution could have developed respect or affection for each other through their conversations about the issues they face and the moral choices they must make. These are topics that can give them common cause and spark a relationship, but in Blink and Caution the story that at one time leads The National drops out of the news and is wrapped up nicely— too nicely to be believed.

Too bad, because Blink and Caution’s climb back up the ladder out of homelessness and toward happiness could be entwined with a vigorous discussion of a lingering historical wrong and the state of Canadian business in the cutthroat world of the global economy. Their personal redemption could have been part of Canada’s story.

Not to fret, however. This is still a good tale about two kids, lost and looking for home— the right home. Teen readers will identify with Blink’s and Caution’s sense of sadness and longing.  Tim Wynne-Jones, he of the Rex Zero series, he of the imaginative Zoom tales, is one of Canada’s best writers for young people, and this slight blink in his list of fine writing is hard to see.

Candlewick | 352 pages |  $19.00 | cloth | ISBN #978-0763639839

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Harriet Zaidman

Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg.