Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Blackbird by Anna Carey

Blackbird is the first book in Anna Carey's duology about a girl involved in a deadly cat and mouse game that sees her being hunted by a series of unknown assassins.

The novel opens with a girl, who awakens to find herself on the subway tracks at the Vermont/Sunset Station, hearing the screeching of the train as it stops over her. "At first it is all sound, the grinding of the wheels in the metal track, the rush of air as the train barrels forward. Its hot breath musses your hair. You stare into the train's underbelly, metal and pipe and wire. As the train finally slows, stopping in the station, it takes you a few seconds to process it: You are still lying there, just inches below the train. You're still alive."

She finds herself just lying there, "specifically positioned, arms crossed over her chest, shoulders just inside the tracks." After the ambulance arrives, they back the train up and the girl sits up. When they try to place her on the board, asking her her name and and what happened, she doesn't know, gets up and runs out of the station.

The first thing she notices about herself is that there is a mysterious tattoo on the inside of her write wrist; FNV02198. In her backpack she finds a notepad, mace, a pocketknife, a map and one thousand dollars.  Inside a supermarket, where she's fled, she bumps into a guy who notices the gash on her forearm. The boy lets her use his phone to call the number on her notepad. When she calls the number, an unknown man tells her to meet him at the building marked on her map. She then asks Ben, the guy she's met, to give her a ride to the area where the building is located, which he does. When Ben asks her her name, she makes up the name "Sunny". Ben drops her at the building, giving her his phone number. In the building Sunny goes to Garner Consulting on the 9th floor. When no one meets her there, she decides to break in to the office, only to find the safe forced open and money spilled over the floor. Terrified and suspecting she's been set up, Sunny flees the scene. After spending the night in a playground, she finds a hotel room, changes into new clothing and then experiences a flashback about attending a funeral.

Soon Sunny begins to realize that she is being followed. She notices a man at the diner and when she attempts to lose him, he gets into a silver car and follows her. Trying to outrun him, she ducks into a huge music store and seems to lose him. Meanwhile the narrative switches to a wealthy woman who is attending a dinner reception and who receives a cryptic message that happens to identify Sunny's location - the Greyhound bus station on Hollywood Boulevard.  Meanwhile Sunny's second person narrative reveals that she is now at the bus station intending to travel to San Francisco, hoping to lose whoever is following her. However, Sunny never makes her bus because she is attacked by a woman wearing a unique medallion. This woman chases Sunny and tries to kill her. Sunny is saved at the last minute by the same man who was tracking her earlier, when he shoots and kills the woman.

When Sunny returns to the scene of the murder very soon after, she finds almost no evidence of the life and death struggle that took place between her and the woman; her body and the gun are both gone. Back in the hotel and having difficult sleeping, Sunny dreams about a boy in a forest and how they are being hunted. Remembering Ben, Sunny decides to call him and they meet at the diner. She tells Ben what has been going on and decides to return with him to his house where he lives with his mother. Searches on Ben's computer reveal no information about a missing girl nor about a woman killed by the 101 Freeway. Sunny also meets Ben's next door neighbour, Izzy who seems friendly.

After taking her to a party Ben and Sunny spend time at the beach relaxing. Sunny continues making notes in her notepad and then realizes that the man who was following her found her twice, only a day apart. This seems too coincidental to Sunny who now believes she's being tracked. She searches her backpack and discovers a hidden tracking device. She decides to set up a third meeting with this man, on her own terms by hiding the tracking device in a park where she can ambush him.

When Sunny does take him down she learns that his name is Ivan Petrovski and that he was paid to track her. Ivan tells her he was paid to make it look like she robbed Garner Consulting and that he doesn't know the identity of the woman who tried to kill her nor who has hired him. He also reveals to Sunny that he told them that she killed the woman. Using Ivan's phone, Sunny calls a number on Ivan's phone, telling them that she has Ivan. This sends them after both Ivan and Sunny. Sunny manages to escape and follows Ivan's captors to a house where he is interrogated and beaten.

After leaving Ivan to the mercy of his captors, Sunny is once again being followed and finds herself cornered in the washroom of a fast food joint where the man tries to kill her. Again Sunny barely escapes due to luck. Sunny begins to sense that these people are hunting her because they don't actually want to use the tracking device. Instead they want clues to her whereabouts. She is part of an elaborate game. Realizing that she is in over her head, Sunny reaches out to the police. Can anyone save her in this elaborate cat and mouse game, where she is the prey and others are the hunters?


Readers will find the point of view in  Blackbird different because it is written in second person using "you" pronouns. It's unusual to have a book written from the second person narrative because generally it is difficult to make it work, but Carey succeeds, having crafted a novel filled with suspense and mystery. Through her use of second person narrative, Carey pulls the reader into the action especially when Sunny is being attacked or being chased, which based on the premise of the novel, happens frequently.
"She grabs your head with one hand, watching you as she holds you there, the smile still curled on her lips. Then she raises the knife. The pain in your head is white-hot, your back scraped and bleeding on the pavement, and you know this is it."
Carey has indicated that she wrote Blackbird in second person because she felt this was the best perspective for a character who had no memory of who she is and because it makes the reader feel like they are the ones who are in danger. She also felt it was a new approach to writing a thriller and would push her out of her comfort zone. It is a different narrative that most readers will not often experience and Carey makes it work here. It's fresh and intriguing.

The story is mostly action driven, partly because the character doesn't remember who she is and with the second person narrative we learn along with her, bits and pieces of her past. Sunny appears to be a very intelligent, quick-thinking girl with considerable street smarts and someone who seems mature beyond her years. She also appears to have had some kind of self-defense training and is athletic. She's in a city where she seems to remember how to get around, but can't remember her own name or past. We learn through another narrator that this might be because she has been given some kind of drug to erase her memories, but that the drug is beginning to wear off, as evidenced by the recurring dreams and flashbacks she's experiencing. She's adaptable and resilient, determined to uncover her past and her identity and to learn why she's being hunted.

There are plenty of secondary characters in the novel, most of whom we meet only briefly and therefore are not very well drawn. Ben and Celia Alvarez are the two main secondary characters. Ben appears to be on Sunny's side, providing a place for her to stay and driving her around to investigate certain areas and situations. However, when Sunny discovers a folder labelled she suspects Ben's motives and flees from him. Celia on the other is definitely out to help Sunny, letting her leave when she learns Sunny was involved in the arson in San Francisco as well as keeping in contact with her outside of her job. It is Celia who provides Sunny with the information about Hilary Goss, the woman who tried to kill her.

The cliffhanger ending leads nicely into the sequel, Deadfall, which will be released June 2015. In this sequel, the main character will meet the boy in her dreams, try to figure out what has happened between her and Ben, learn her true identity and come to understand her past and finally figure out who the people are who are trying to kill her and why.

***The remainder of the novel is summarized below for those who will read the sequel next year and want to refresh their memories as to what happened. It therefore contains spoilers.**

Sunny is interviewed extensively by the police who find her story unbelievable. When they question her about Ben after finding his name and number in her pocket, Sunny feels that she has to protect him and simply tells the police that he was just "some guy I met at the supermarket" who tried to pick her up. In an effort to locate the house where Ivan was taken, another officer, Celia Alvarez takes Sunny out in her cruiser, where they do eventually find the house. Incredibly, the house has been set on fire and the cops believe it  was the work of junkies. Celia tells Sunny that her prints indicate that she is wanted for arson at Club Xenith in San Francisco. Believing that Celia will arrest her, Sunny flees, although she suspects that Celia is letting her go.

Sunny returns to Ben telling him why she ran from him and that she eventually went to the police. Research on Ben's computer suggests that homeless teens are believed responsible for the arson in San Francisco. Sunny and Ben become intimate. Later on she remembers more about THE BOY, whom she loves and whom she realizes was being hunted on the island. The next morning, Sunny decides to investigate Parillo Construction, the name she saw on the boxes at the house where Ivan was. Ben takes her to Parillo Construction where Sunny makes a gruesome discovery - the body of Ivan stuffed into a garbage bag ready to be disposed of and evidence of a dog-fighting ring.

Meanwhile Celia Alvarez is certain that the unknown girl who came to the police is telling the truth. Celia meets Sunny unexpectedly in the parking lot outside the grocery store and the girl has new information for her about the man who was kidnapped after she met him in the park, about his body and where it can be found. Sunny also wants to know if Celia knows her name from the information given to them by police in San Francisco. but Celia tells her that one of the homeless kids stated her name was Trinie and that she was originally from a town named Cabazon, near Palm Springs.

While waiting for Ben to come home from school, Sunny reluctantly accompanies Izzy shopping but then discovers she's being watched and followed by the man from the park. Sunny flees but finds herself being chased and shot at by the unknown man. Although he tackles and brings Sunny down, she manages to escape. When she returns to Ben's house they travel to Cabazon to try to find Sunny's home. Later that night in a motel,  Sunny has another dream about being attacked by a man while on the island and being saved by the boy. When she awakes, Sunny remembers that the man who hunted her on the island is the same man who chased and shot her. He's hunted her before.

Ben has to go meet his mom while Sunny decides to go meet Celia at her home. Celia tells her that she has uncovered two unsolved homicides of teenagers in which the bodies had the right hand severed at the wrist. Sunny shows Celia the bird tattoo on her wrist and is convinced that this is brand identifying her. Celia gives her an untraceable cell phone to keep in touch.

When Sunny arrives back at Ben's home she finds him not home. A call from Celia yields startling information - that a man came to claim the car of a woman whom he says is his wife away on business. The woman, Hilary Goss is the person who chased Sunny and a search online reveals the man with the scar who chased and almost killed Sunny as her husband, Henry Goss. Sunny decides to go to Henry's home, breaks in and in a secret compartment in the bedroom closet finds a dossier on her, showing her scars, and labelling her as Blackbird, Los Angeles Target, who survived 15 days on the island. A contract between the Goss's and A&A Enterprises in the folder states that he has been reassigned to "Blackbird" as a result of his wife's death. There is mention of a "Watcher" and a "Stager", though they are not identified.

The situation becomes complicated when Izzy shows up at the house and they are confronted by Henry Goss. Goss shoots Izzy and chases Sunny who manages yet again to escape. When she arrives at Ben's home safe, she decides to search online, understanding now that this game is huge with many participants. That's when she notices the AAE folder on Ben's computer and realizes that he's her Watcher. Sunny's narrative is broken by a scene on the island of a woman who doesn't know that her husband is on the island hunting humans. When she sees a sign for help she assumes her husband is in trouble and goes into the forest to find him, only to be shot dead by another hunter. Sunny flees first to check on Izzy at the hospital and then to Union station where she plans to catch a train to Chicago. There at the train station is the boy from the island.

Book Details:
Blackbird by Anna Carey
New York: HarperTeen      2014
245 pp.

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