Sometimes, really liking a book can be worrisome. I worry because the book introduces me to new (imaginary) people, and I’m glad to have met them, but I don’t know what’s going to happen when I try to introduce them to my friends.
In Blink & Caution, I’ve just met these two kids who’ve been bumming around, a little down on their luck in downtown Toronto. One of them (the one with the eponymous Blinking tic) was just trying to swipe some gently used breakfast at the Plaza Regent hotel when he got himself mixed up in a major political-environmental scandal. The other one (code name Caution) has, by her own report, done pretty much every bad thing a kid her age could do, and she isn’t likely to stop until one of these things succeeds in ending her. These aren’t the kinds of friends one sets out to make, but once I opened the book there wasn’t much choice but to care that they be okay and watch the avalanche of reasons it seems they won’t be come tumbling down.
Friends, I can understand how you might not be immediately on board with befriending this pair, but they’re not bad kids, really. They’re just a little (okay, profoundly) lost.
Wynne-Jones wrote something about getting lost in the September/October 2002 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: “It is important to learn how to play at writing. To wander off the path. To get lost. Getting lost is something teachers might wish certain students would do, but the teachers are seldom prepared, pedagogically, to assist them in the process.” Who knows if Blink and Caution were even a twinkle in their author’s eyes when he wrote those words — but they strike me as relevant to the journey of the book. When the novel begins, both Blink and Caution have long since elected to become lost to their respective families. Having become lost, they are perceived by the world either as irrelevant, threatening, or easy targets…or as threats who will be easy to squelch into irrelevancy.
There’s a scene where Blink is trying to piece together the full magnitude of the crime in which he’s implicated himself when the narrative voice observes: “If this were history class, you’d have given up by now. You’d be like an autumn fly on a hot windowsill, on your back, buzzing and kicking your last. But there is something about stolen knowledge that tastes different. No one is trying to spoon-feed you this stuff. It’s complicated, but there isn’t going to be a test. Well, not that kind of a test. Stick with it, Blink. See what you can make of it.”
What I’m trying to tell you is this: don’t assume you won’t be into Blink & Caution. Don’t assume you won’t be into its combination of second and third person narration in the present tense or its esoteric Canadian environmental thingy or its teenagers carrying around big fat buckets of heavy life sorrow stuff. That’s all part of Blink & Caution, but it doesn’t read like a pretentious experiment in form, or a social studies textbook, or a sloppy sob story. It reads as though a guy who knew what he was doing but not where he was going sat down to write these two scuffed up kids into a world full of troubles and then watched to see just how lost they could get. He diligently recorded all the impossible things that somehow happened to them and the inevitable things that somehow didn’t, and he wove it all snug into this thing that is just the right size — vast enough to cover the landscape and small enough to curl into and hide. And when he knew that everything was going to be okay, that finally there was something really good for these kids to find, he said, “Here is a book. I hope you enjoy it and find it helpful.”
And I think you will.
Laura Forsythe resides in Kingston, Ontario. She sings impromptu songs about household tasks and slouches about four inches off of her height most of the time, but doesn’t draw on her hands nearly as much as she used to, so they may make an adult of her yet.