Review: Blink and Caution

Blink & Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones. Candlewick. 2011. BrillianceAudio. Narrated by MacLeod Andrews. 2011. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Blink accidentally witnesses a crime — actually, a non-crime. Jack Niven, an important businessman, has been kidnapped, but Blink saw Niven with the so-called kidnappers and knows he not only went willingly; Niven was in charge, the boss. Homeless and living on the streets, Blink helps himself to the man’s smartphone and wallet and now has linked himself to the crime.

Caution has run away from her drug-dealing boyfriend, taking his stash of money and pot. Somehow, he keeps tracking her down.

Blink and Caution are both on the run. Their paths cross, their stories merge, and two broken teens begin to put together the pieces of their lives. 

The Good: Blink & Caution is told in alternating chapters. Blink’s chapters are told by a person talking to him, a step or two ahead of him: “You lean against the wall, exhausted from the act of holding yourself together. You got off at the wrong floor, my son — that’s all. The wrongest floor of all. You don’t know that yet, but you’re never far from that feeling.” I loved this way of storytelling; MacLeod Andrews, the narrator for the audiobook, brilliantly conveyed the tone of the person talking to Blink. (Andrews does such a stunning job with this book that I now want to listen to everything he’s narrated). Blink’s half of the story is one of mystery — who is Niven? what is happening? why did he fake a kidnapping? — and the unknown narrator adds to the feeling of suspense. Blink quickly finds himself in over his head, but he cannot stop himself. He cannot leave the mystery of Niven alone.

Caution’s story is both more basic and more heartbreaking. Oh, Blink has had a tough few years; his father left, his mother’s new husband is abusive, so Brent (known as Blink because he blinks frequently) is living on the streets. Caution (aka Kitty) ran away from home like Blink, but she ran away for different reason. Caution killed her brother, and yes it was an accident, but he’s still dead and the life she is now living is one built upon punishing herself for her crime.

Blink and Caution are two teens who fate has not treated well. Both deserve better than what life has given them. Caution, especially, has almost been broken by what she did. Almost . . .  because while she ran away, while she hooked up with a drug dealer, while she is now on the run for her life, she is on the run. She does want to live. Blink & Caution is about two broken people coming together and being made whole, but it’s two broken people who are ready to be made whole. Had their paths crossed earlier, it would not have been the right time in either of their lives. Together, they are stronger; together, they may be able to figure a way out of the mess Blink is in. Together, they may become strong enough to survive on their own.

Because I found myself caring so deeply about what happened to Blink and Caution. Because it hurt, knowing how deeply Caution was hurt by what she’d done. Because I wanted these two teens to connect, and once they connected, I wanted to see what they would do. Because this was one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever listened to. This is one of my Favorite Books Read in 2011.

Review: The Uninvited

The Uninvited by Tim Wynne-Jones. Candlewick on Brilliance Audio. Narrated by Angela Dawe. 2010. Candlewick. 2009. Listened to on audiobook supplied by publisher.

The Plot: It seemed like a good idea. Mimi Shapiro escapes New York City after an eventful freshman year that included an affair with an older professor who won’t stop calling. Mimi goes to the Canadian cottage of her father, artist Marc Soto, expecting solitude. Instead she finds musician Jackson “Jay” Page, 22, who has been using the cottage as a music studio.

Jackson, rather than reacting like a squatter who has been caught, acts as if Mimi is the intruder. He suspects her of the odd things that have been going on: a dead bird and snake skin left at the cottage.

What Mimi and Jay don’t know, as they eye each other with suspicion, is that someone is watching from the shadows.

The Good: Count this as one of those hard to write reviews, because I don’t want to give too much away!

There are three main characters to this story: Mimi, Jay, and Cramer Lee, the watcher. The prologue begins with Cramer’s story, a young man whose life is all about taking care of his mother. Cramer’s mother is an artist, who has good moments and bad moments and tends to have bad boyfriends. Cramer is always there to pick up the pieces, to work the steady jobs to pay the bills. At twenty two, he’s in low wage jobs because instead of going away to college he stayed home to take care of his mother. The reader would think, then, that this is Cramer’s story so that he is the hero. The prologue ends with his mother demanding he steal a necklace.

Suddenly, the story shifts to Mimi in her car, on an adventure, a road trip, to the cottage her father hasn’t seen in over twenty years. It says a lot about her father that he never tells her that he had given permission to Jay to use it as a studio; and he never tells Mimi about Jay at all. Mimi and Jay’s friendship begins with the shared cottage and the odd happenings. Is there anything scarier than realizing that your home is not safe? That it’s been violated? That someone has gone through your things? All the worst by, well, nothing big really happening. A dead bird outside a door? A rock missing from a window ledge?

The story shifts again, to Cramer’s point of view, to his own explanations for what he has done.

Who is the uninvited? Mimi, Jay, Cramer?

The suspense builds and builds, almost unbearably. As the reader watches Cramer watch Jay and Mimi, it seems like Cramer is more villain than hero, that he is a stalker. And yet, and yet — there seems to be more to him. And Cramer has his reasons. As the summer goes by, the reader learns more about Jay, about Mimi, about Cramer. The suspense becomes not just “what will happen next in the cottage,” but, also, what will happen with these three? Will their paths all cross? What about the professor who won’t stop calling Mimi? Is Cramer’s mother finding her path as an artist, or slipping into darkness?

In addition to the friendships, relationships, and mystery of this book, The Uninvited also offers something not always found in books for teens: three college-age students. Mimi has just finished her freshman year, Jay has just graduated, Cramer is in his early twenties. They are old enough to be on their own, old enough to work. Yet, they are still all their parents’ children. Jay is taking a year off before graduate school because his mother supports his music. Mimi has left New York City for an independent summer, but it’s independence made possible by her father’s house and, one assumes, both her parents money as she never worries about a job to pay for groceries and bills. Cramer works two jobs to pay the bills, watches others follows dreams, yet remains tied to his mother. He cannot abandon her, as so many others have. Their age allows all three to have a certain level of freedom from parental oversight, but each still is caught in familiar child-parent patterns and dependencies that a teen reader may identify with.