By Chelsey Philpot
April 6, 2011
Edgar Award-winner Tim Wynne-Jones’ 12th novel for teens has all the elements of a classic noir: a quick-thinking leading lady; an unlikely, but decent, hero; a femme fatale with dubious motives; goons with nicknames like “Tank,” “Merlin” and “Snake”; and, of course, action and suspense.
The quick thinker is Kitty “Caution” Pettigrew— “As in: Contents May Be Hot!” She is 16 and on the run from her drug dealer boyfriend. The unlikely hero is Brent “Blink” Conboy—so called because of his nervous tendency to blink.
The story open as Blink stumbles on the staged kidnapping of a CEO, from which the boy pockets the executive’s BlackBerry and a photo of his beautiful daughter. Blink and Caution collide in Toronto’s Union Station, where Caution initially plans to rob him.
Instead, these two street kids become entangled in a plot way over their heads.
With the current glut of young-adult novels in the first person, Wynne-Jones makes a smart decision in “Blink & Caution.” He tells Blink’s passages in the second person and Caution’s in the third. Though it takes some getting used to, Blink’s perspective eventually becomes engrossing. Peering through Blink’s eyes, the reader feels his fear, griminess and hunger.
Wynne-Jones also has a knack for humor and description. Caution wears a tartan skirt “in the colors of the McSalvation Army” and a “short jacket made from the pelt of some electric-blue creature tracked down in the wasteland of northern Walmartia.”
Language that would tilt toward hokey in less skilled hands is delightful here.
In the afterword, the author writes that “when I was sixteen, a friend of mine was shot and killed by his younger brother.” He uses this memory of accidental death to develop Caution’s complex, self-punishing grief, giving his story a particular strength and sadness.
This novel, like the author’s thriller “The Uninvited,” falls into that rare category: a book equally appealing to boys and girls. “Blink & Caution” is a gripping read.