Christie Burke's Infinite Booklist

The White Darkness January 7, 2010

McCaughrean, Geraldine.  The White Darkness. HarperTeen, 2005.

Sym Wates is a slightly out of the ordinary 14-year-old girl.  For one thing, she knows pretty much everything there is to know about Antarctica; for another, she sort of has a dead guy rattling around in her head.  Captain Titus Oates was an Antarctic explorer who died there under horrible circumstances, and Sym is so taken with the idea of him that she brings him into her life as a confidant and soul mate (though the rest of us can see that he’s really an imaginary friend).  Sym’s Uncle Victor feeds her Antarctic obsession, but with his own agenda in mind.  When he takes her on a dream trip to “The Ice,” things quickly degenerate into a struggle for survival.

I’ve read this book twice now – the first time was for class, and the second was for book club at school (i.e. I talked a bunch of students into reading it too).  The plot moves fairly well, but the pace of the writing itself is a little inconsistent – as in blah blah blah blah-TRIP TO EUROPE – blah blah blah – WE’RE GOING TO ANTARCTICA WITHOUT YOUR MOM – blah blah blah blah blah EXPLOSION blah blah blah blah STUNNING TURN OF EVENTS.  Aside from the Memorable Plot Points, there is a lot of sameness about this book – but I think it’s well-crafted, deliberate sameness, designed to evoke the monotony of Antarctica itself and of Sym’s day-to-day life.  It’s written in such a way that it made me physically cold when I read it the first time, and while I don’t like being cold, I do appreciate that kind of description.

So yeah, *I* liked this book.  My book club kids were not as enthusiastic about it, and so I’m a little bit on the fence about recommending it for high-school kids (though the kids who liked it liked it A LOT).  One thing I did notice is that the guys in the group did most of the talking, which is a bit of a change.  Not that these guys don’t talk, but typically more of the girls do.  For the right person, it’s a good read.

Related:

Geraldine McCaughrean’s Official Website (Children’s Novels section).  A telling quotation from the blurb on this book: “Who but the mad trust for happiness to someone or something that isn’t there?”  We had lots of conversation about who in this book was and was not completely crazy. FWIW, I think only Victor – because a vivid internal monologue is not necessarily a problem for me. 🙂

A more useful review than  I just wrote, on teenreads.com.

Titus Oates on Wikipedia.

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